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WESSEX TALES 



WESSEX TALES 



THAT IS TO SAY 

AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN — THE 
THREE STRANGERS— THE WITH- 
ERED ARM — FELLOW -TOWNSMEN 
—INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP— 
AND THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 



BY 

THOMAS HARDY 



WITH FRONTISPIECE BY 

H. MACBETH-RAEBURN 

AND 

A MAP OF WESSEX 



i';3ss 



NEW YORK 
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS 

FRANKLIN SQUARE 



Books by 
THOMAS HARDY 

DESPERATE REMEDIES 

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD 

A GROUP OF NOBLE DAMES 

THE HAND OF ETHELBERTA 

JUDE THE OBSCURE 

A LAODICEAN 

LIFE'S LITTLE IRONIES 

THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE 

A PAIR OF BLUE EYES 

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE 

TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES 

THE TRUMPET MAJOR 

TWO ON A TOWER 

UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE 

THE WELL-BELOVED 

WESSEX TALES 

THE WOODLANDERS 

Crown 8vo. 

ISmo. Thin Paper Edition. 

Cloth. Leather. 

A CHANGED MAN. Post 8vo 
WESSEX POEMS. First Series 
WESSEX POEMS. Second Series 



HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK 



PniMTCO IN THE UNITED STATES OP AMENIC* 

A-0 

ri Q n: f:-; 



PREFACE 

An apology is perhaps needed for the neglect of contrast 
which is shown by presenting two consecutive stories of 
hangmen in such a small collection as the following. But 
in the neighbourhood of county-towns tales of executions 
used to form a large proportion of the local traditions ; and 
though never personally acquainted with any chief operator 
at such scenes, the writer of these pages had as a boy 
the privilege of being on speaking terms with a man who 
applied for the office, and who sank into an incurable 
melancholy because he failed to get it, some slight mitiga- 
tion of his grief being to dwell upon striking episodes in 
the lives of those happier ones who had held it with suc- 
cess and renown. His tale of disappointment used to 
cause some wonder why his ambition should have taken 
such an unfortunate form, but its nobleness was never 
questioned. In those days, too, there was still living an 
old woman who, for the cure of some eating disease, had 
been taken in her youth to have her 'blood turned' by a 
convict's corpse, in the manner described in * The Withered 
Arm.' 

Since writing this story some years ago I have been re- 
minded by an aged friend who knew ' Rhoda Brook ' that, 
in relating her dream, my forgetfulness has weakened the 
facts out of which the tale grew. In reality it was while 
lying down on a hot afternoon that the incubus oppressed 
her and she flung it off, with the results upon the body of 
the original as described. To my mind the occurrence of 



PREFACE 

such a vision in the daytime is more impressive than if it 
had happened in a midnight dream. Readers are therefore 
asked to correct the misrelation, which affords an instance 
of how our imperfect memories insensibly formalize the 
fresh originality of living fact — from whose shape they 
slowly depart, as machine-made castings depart by degrees 
from the sharp hand-work of the mould. 

Among the many devices for concealing smuggled goods 
in caves and pits of the earth, that of planting an apple- 
tree in a tray or box which was placed over the mouth 
of the pit is, I believe, unique, and it is detailed in one 
of the tales precisely as described by an old carrier of 
* tubs ' — a man who was afterwards in my father's employ 
for over thirty years. I never gathered from his reminis- 
cences what means were adopted for lifting the tree, which, 
with its roots, earth, and receptacle, must have been of 
considerable weight. There is no doubt, however, that the 
thing was done through many years. My informant often 
spoke, too, of the horribly suffocating sensation produced 
by the pair of spirit-tubs slung upon the chest and back, 
after stumbling with the burden of them for several miles 
inland over a rough country and in darkness. He said 
that though years of his youth and young manhood were 
spent in this irregular business, his profits from the same, 
taken all together, did not average the wages he might 
have earned in a steady employment, whilst the fatigues 
and risks were excessive. 

I may add that the first story in the series turns upon 

a physical possibility that may attach to women of 

imaginative temperament, and that is well supported by 

the experiences of medical men and other observers of such 

manifestations. 

T. H. 

April 1896. 



CONTENTS 



An Imaginative Woman 

The Three Strangers 

The Withered Arm 
A Lorn Milkmaid 
The Young Wife 
A Vision . 

A Suggestion . 
Conjuror Trendlb 
A Second Attempt 
A Ride . 
A Water-side Hermit 
A Rencounter 



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73 
78 
83 
87 
91 
97 

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CONTENTS 



Fellow-Townsmen . . • . • 

Interlopers at the Knap • • . 

The Distracted Preacher . . , 

How HIS Cold was Cured . 
How he saw two other Men 
The Mysterious Greatcoat 
At the Time of the New Moon . 
How they went to Lulstead Cove 
The Great Search at Nether-Moynton 



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IDS 

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219 

234 
238 
247 
256 
267 



The Walk to Warm'kll Cross, and afterwards 277 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 



AN IMACmATIVE WOMAN 

When WilUam Marchmlll had finished his inquiries 
for lodgings at a well-known watering-place in Upper 
Wessex, he returned to the hotel to find his wife. She, 
with the children, had rambled along the shore, and 
Marchmill followed in the direction indicated by the 
military-looking hall-porter. 

' By Jove, how far you've gone ! I am quite out of 
breath,' Marchmill said, rather impatiently, when he 
came up with his wife, who was reading as she walked, 
the three children being considerably further ahead with 
the nurse. 

Mrs. Marchmill started out of the reverie into which 
the book had thrown her. 'Yes,' she said, 'you've 
been such a long time. I was tired of staying in that 
dreary hotel. But I am sorry if you have wanted me. 
Will ? ' 

'Well, I have had trouble to suit myself. When 
you see the airy and comfortable rooms heard of, you 
find they are stuffy and uncomfortable. Will you come 
and see if what I've fixed on will do ? There is not 
much room, I am afraid ; but I can light on nothing 
better. The town is rather full.' 

The pair left the children and nurse to continue their 
ramble, and went back together. 

In age well-balanced, in personal appearance fairly 

3 



WESSEX TALES 

matched, and in domestic requirements conformable, in 
temper this couple differed, though even here they did 
not often clash, he being equable, if not lymphatic, and 
she decidedly nervous and sanguine. It was to their 
tastes and fancies, those smallest, greatest particulars, 
that no common denominator could be applied. March- 
mill considered his wife's likes and inclinations somewhat 
silly; she considered his sordid and material. The 
husband's business was that of a gunmaker in a thriving 
city northwards, and his soul was in that business 
always ; the lady was best characterized by that super- 
annuated phrase of elegance ' a votary of the muse.' An 
impressionable, palpitating creature was Ella, shrinking 
humanely from detailed knowledge of her husband's 
trade whenever she reflected that everything he manu- 
factured had for its purpose the destruction of life. She 
could only recover her equanimity by assuring herself 
that some, at least, of his weapons were sooner or later 
used for the extermination of horrid vermin and animals 
almost as cruel to their inferiors in species as human 
beings were to theirs. 

She had never antecedently regarded this occupation 
of his as any objection to having him for a husband. 
Indeed, the necessity of getting life-leased at all cost, 
a cardinal virtue which all good mothers teach, kept 
her from thinking of it at all till she had closed with 
William, had passed the honeymoon, and reached the 
reflecting stage. Then, like a person who has stumbled 
upon some object in the dark, she wondered what she 
had got ; mentally walked round it, estimated it ; whether 
it were rare or common; contained gold, silver, or 
lead; were a clog or a pedestal, everything to her or 
nothing. 

She came to some vague conclusions, and since then 
had kept her heart alive by pitying her proprietor's 
obtuseness and want of refinement, pitying herself, and 
letting off her delicate and ethereal emotions in imagi- 

4 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

native occupations, day-dreams, and night-sighs, which 
perhaps would not much have disturbed WiUia ti if he 
had known of them. 

Her figure was small, elegant, and slight in build, 
tripping, or rather bounding, in movement. She was 
dark-eyed, and had that marvellously bright and liquid 
sparkle in each pupil which characterizes persons of 
Ella's cast of soul, and is too often a cause of heart- 
ache to the possessor's male friends, ultimately some- 
times to herself. Her husband was a tall, long-featured 
man, with a brown beard ; he had a pondering regard ; 
and was, it must be added, usually kind and tolerant 
to her. He spoke in squarely shaped sentences, and 
was supremely satisfied with a condition of sublunary 
things which made weapons a necessity. 

Husband and wife walked till they had reached the 
house they were in search of, which stood in a terrace 
facing the sea, and was fronted by a small garden of 
wind-proof and salt-proof evergreens, stone steps leading 
up to the porch. It had its number in the row, but, being 
rather larger than the rest, was in addition sedulously 
distinguished as Coburg House by its landlady, though 
everybody else called it 'Thirteen, New Parade.' The 
spot was bright and lively now ; but in winter it became 
necessary to place sandbags against the door, and to 
stuff up the keyhole against the wind and rain, which 
had worn the paint so thin that the priming and knotting 
showed through. 

The householder, who had been watching for the 
gentleman's return, met them in the passage, and 
showed the rooms. She informed them that she was 
a professional man's widow, left in needy circumstances 
by the rather sudden death of her husband, and she 
spoke anxiously of the conveniences of the establish- 
ment. 

Mrs. Marchmill sai 1 that she liked the situation and 
the house; but, it being small, there would not be 

5 



WESSEX TALES 

accommodation enough, unless she could have all the 
rooms. 

The landlady mused with an air of disappointment. 
She wanted the visitors to be her tenants very badly, 
she said, with obvious honesty. But unfortunately two 
of the rooms were occupied permanently by a bachelor 
gentleman. He did not pay season prices, it was true ; 
but as he kept on his apartments all the year round, 
and was an extremely nice and interesting young man, 
who gave no trouble, she did not like to turn him out 
for a month's ' let,* even at a high figure. ' Perhaps, 
however,' she added, 'he might offer to go for a 
time.' 

They would not hear of this, and went back to the 
hotel, intending to proceed to the agent's to inquire 
further. Hardly had they sat down to tea when the 
landlady called. Her gentleman, she said, had been 
so obliging as to offer to give up his rooms for three 
or four weeks rather than drive the new-comers away. 

* It is very kind, but we won't inconvenience him in 
that way,' said the Marchmills. 

' O, it won't inconvenience him, I assure you ! ' said 
the landlady eloquently. • You see, he's a different sort 
of young man from most — dreamy, solitary, rather 
melancholy — and he cares more to be here when the 
south-westerly gales are beating against the door, and 
the sea washes over the Parade, and there's not a soul 
in the place, than he does now in the season. He'd 
just as soon be where, in fact, he's going temporarily, 
to a little cottage on the Island opposite, for a change.* 
She hoped therefore that they would come. 

The Marchmill family accordingly took possession 
of the house next day, and it seemed to suit them very 
well. After luncheon Mr. Marchmill strolled out to- 
wards the pier, and Mrs. Marchmill, having despatched 
the children to their outdoor amusements on the sands, 
settled herself iu more completely, examining this and 

6 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

that article, and testing the reflecting powers of the 
mirror in the wardrobe door. 

In the small back sitting-room, which had been the 
young bachelor's, she found furniture of a more personal 
nature than in the rest. Shabby books, of correct 
rather than rare editions, were piled up in a queerly 
reserved manner in corners, as if the previous occupant 
had not conceived the possibility that any incoming 
person of the season's bringing could care to look 
inside them. The landlady hovered on the threshold 
to rectify anything that Mrs. Marchmill might not find 
to her satisfaction. 

' I'll make this my own little room,* said the latter, 
* because the books are here. By the way, the person 
who has left seems to have a good many. He won't 
mind my reading some of them, Mrs. Hooper, I hope ? ' 

' O dear no, ma'am. Yes, he has a good many. 
You see, he is in the literary line himself somewhat. 
He is a poet — yes, really a poet — and he has a little 
income of his own, which is enough to write verses 
on, but not enough for cutting a figure, even if he 
cared to.' 

' A poet ! O, I did not know that.' 

Mrs. Marchmill opened one of the books, and saw 
the owner's name written on the title-page. * Dear 
me ! ' she continued ; * I know his name very well — 
Robert Trewe — of course I do ; and his writings ! 
And it is h's rooms we have taken, and Aim we have 
turned out of his home ? ' 

Ella Marchmill, sitting down alone a few minutes 
later, thought with interested surprise of Robert Trewe. 
Her own latter history will best explain that interest. 
Herself the only daughter of a struggling man of letters, 
she had during the last year or two taken to writing 
poems, in an endeavour to find a congenial channel 
in which to let flow her painfully embayed emotions, 
whose former limpidity and sparkle seemed departing 



WESSEX TALES 

in the stagnation caused by the routine of a practical 
household and the gloom of bearing children to a 
commonplace father. These poems, subscribed with a 
masculine pseudonym, had appeared in various obscure 
magazines, and in two cases in rather prominent ones. 
In the second of the latter the page which bore her 
effusion at the bottom, in smallish print, bore at the 
top, in large print, a few verses on the same subject by 
this very man, Robert Trewe. Both of them had, in 
fact, been struck by a tragic incident reported in the 
daily papers, and had used it simultaneously as an 
inspiration, the editor remarking in a note upon the 
coincidence, and that the excellence of both poems 
prompted him to give them together. 

After that event Ella, otherwise 'John Ivy,* had 
watched with much attention the appearance anywhere 
in print of verse bearing the signature of Robert Trewe, 
who, with a man's unsusceptibility on the question of 
sex, had never once thought of passing himself off as 
a woman. To be sure, Mrs. Marchmill had satisfied 
herself with a sort of reason for doing the contrary in 
her case ; that nobody might beUeve in her inspiration 
if they found that the sentiments came from a pushing 
tradesman's wife, from the mother of three children by 
a matter-of-fact small arms manufacturer. 

Trewe's verse contrasted with that of the rank and 
file of recent minor poets in being impassioned rather 
than ingenious, luxuriant rather than finished. Neither 
symboliste nor decadent, he was a pessin)ist in so far as 
that character applies to a man who looks at the worst 
contingencies as well as the best in the human condition. 
Being Uttle attracted by excellences of form and rhythm 
apart from content, he sometimes, when feeling outran 
his artistic speed, perpetrated sonnets in the loosely 
rhymed Elizabethan fashion, which every right-minded 
reviewer said he ought not to have done. 

With sad and hopeless envy, Ella Marchmill had 

S 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

often and often scanned the rival poet's work, so much 
stronger as it always was than her own feeble lines. She 
had imitated him, and her inability to touch his level 
would send her into fits of despondency. Months 
passed away thus, till she observed from the publishers' 
list that Trewe had collected his fugitive pieces into a 
volume, which was duly issued, and was much or little 
praised according to chance, and had a sale quite suffi- 
cient to pay for the printing. 

This step onward had suggested to John Ivy the 
idea of collecting her pieces also, or at any rate of 
making up a book of her rhymes by adding m^any in 
manuscript to the few that had seen the light, for she 
had been able to get no great number into print. A 
ruinous charge was made for costs of publication; a 
few reviews noticed her poor little volume ; but nobody 
talked of it, nobody bought it, and it fell dead in a 
fortnight — if it had ever been alive. 

The author's thoughts were diverted to another 
groove just then by the discovery that she was going 
to have a third child, and the collapse of her poetical 
venture had perhaps less effect upon her mind than it 
might have done if she had been domestically unoccu- 
pied. Her husband had paid the publisher's bill with 
the doctor's, and there it all had ended for the time. 
But, though less than a poet of her century, Ella was 
more than a mere multiplier of her kind, and latterly 
she had begun to feel the old afflatus once more. And 
now by an odd conjunction she found herself in the 
rooms of Robert Trewe. 

She thoughtfully rose from her chair and searched 
the apartment with the interest of a fellow-tradesman. 
Yes, the volume of his own verse was among the rest. 
Though quite familiar with its contents, she read it here 
as if it spoke aloud to her, then called up Mrs. Hooper, 
the landlady, for some trivial service, and inquired again 
about the young man. 

9 



WESSEX TALES 

* Well, I'm sure you'd be interested in him, ma'am, 
if you could see him, only he's so shy that I don't 
suppose you will,' Mrs. Hooper seemed nothing loth 
to minister to her tenant's curiosity about her prede- 
cessor, * Lived here long ? Yes, nearly two years. 
He keeps on his rooms even when he's not here : the 
soft air of this place suits his chest, and he likes to be 
able to come back at any time. He is mostly writing 
or reading, and doesn't see many people, though, for 
the matter of that, he is such a good, kind young fellow 
that folks would only be too glad to be friendly with 
him if they knew him. You don't meet kind-hearted 
people every day,' 

» Ah, he's kind-hearted . . . and good.* 

* Yes ; he'll oblige me in anything if I ask him. 
" Mr, Trewe," I say to him sometimes, " you are rather 
out of spirits." *' Well, I am, Mrs, Hooper," he'll say, 
" though 1 don't know how you should find it out" 
"Why not take a little change?" I ask. Then in a 
day or two he'll say that he will take a trip to Paris, 
or Norway, or somewhere ; and I assure you he comes 
back all the better for it.' 

* Ah, indeed ! His is a sensitive nature, no doubt,' 
*Yes, Still he's odd in some things. Once when 

he had finished a poem of his composition late at night 
he walked up and down the room rehearsing it; and 
the floors being so thin — jerry-built houses, you know, 
though I say it myself — he kept me awake up above 
him till I wished him further. . , . But we get on 
very well.' 

This was but the beginning of a series of conver- 
sations about the rising poet as the days went qdu 
On one of these occasions Mrs. Hooper drew EU^s 
attention to what she had not noticed before : minute 
scribblings in pencil on the wall-paper behind the 
curtains at the head of the bed. 

•01 let me look,' said Mrs. Marchmill, unable to 

lO 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

conceal a rush of tender curiosity as she bent her pretty 
face close to the wall. 

' These,' said Mrs. Hooper, with the manner of a 
woman who knew things, ' are the very beginnings and 
first thoughts of his verses. He has tried to rub most 
of them out, but you can read them still. My belief 
is that he wakes up in the night, you know, with some 
rhyme in his head, and jots it down there on the wall 
lest he should forget it by the morning. Some of these 
very lines you see here I have seen afterwards in print 
in the magazines. Some are newer; indeed, I have 
not seen that one before. It must have been done 
only a few days ago.' 

' O yes 1 . . .' 

Ella Marchmill flushed without knowing why, and 
suddenly wished her companion would go away, now 
that the information was imparted. An indescribable 
consciousness of personal interest rather than literary 
made her anxious to read the inscription alone; and 
she accordingly waited till she could do so, with a sense 
that a great store of emotion would be enjoyed in the act 

Perhaps because the sea was choppy outside the 
Island, Ella's husband found it much pleasanter to go 
sailing and steaming about without his wife, who was 
a bad sailor, than with her. He did not disdain to 
go thus alone on board the steamboats of the cheap- 
trippers, where there was dancing by moonlight, and 
where the couples would come suddenly down with a 
lurch into each other's arms ; for, as he blandly told her, 
the company was too mixed for him to take her amid 
such scenes. Thus, while this thriving manufacturer got 
a great deal of change and sea-air out of his sojourn 
here, the life, external at least, of Ella was monotonous 
enough, and mainly consisted in passing a certain 
number of hours each day in bathing and walking 
up and down a stretch of shore. But the poetic 
impulse having again waxed strong, she was possessed 

xz 



WESSEX TALES 

by an inner flame which left her hardly conscious of 
what was proceeding around her. 

She had read till she knew by heart Trewe's last 
little volume of verses, and spent a great deal of time 
in vainly attempting to rival some of them, till, in her 
failure, she burst into tears. The personal element in 
the magnetic attraction exercised by this circumambient, 
unapproachable master of hers was so much stronger 
than the intellectual and abstract that she could not 
understand it. To be sure, she was surrounded noon 
and night by his customary environment, which literally 
whispered of him to her at every moment; but he was 
a man she had never seen, and that all that moved 
her was the instinct to specialize a waiting emotion on 
the first fit thing that came to hand did not, of course, 
suggest itself to Ella. 

In the natural way of passion under the too practi- 
cal conditions which civilization has devised for its 
fruition, her husband's love for her had not survived, 
except in the form of fitful friendship, any more than, 
or even so much as, her own for him; and, being 
a woman of very living ardours, that required suste- 
nance of some sort, they were beginning to feed on this 
chancing material, which was, indeed, of a quality far 
better than chance usually offers. 

One day the children had been playing hide-and- 
seek in a closet, whence, in their excitement, they pulled 
out some clothing. Mrs. Hooper explained that it 
belonged to Mr. Trewe, and hung it up in the closet 
again. Possessed of her fantasy, Ella went later in 
the afternoon, when nobody was in that part of the 
house, opened the closet, unhitched one of the articles, 
a mackintosh, and put it on, with the waterproof cap 
belonging to it. 

•The mantle of Elijah!' she said. 'Would it 
might inspire me to rival him, glorious genius that 
he isl' 

12 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

Her eyes always grew wet when she thought like 
that, and she turned to look at herself in the glass. 
Bis heart had beat inside that coat, and his brain had 
worked under that hat at levels of thought she would 
never reach. The consciousness of her weakness beside 
him made her feel quite sick. Before she had got the 
things off her the door opened, and her husband entered 
the room, 

' What the devil ' 

She blushed, and removed them. 

• I found them in the closet here,* she said, ' and put 
them on in a freak. What have I else to do ? You are 
always away ! ' 

• Always away ? Well . . 

That evening she had a further talk with the land- 
lady, who might herself have nourished a half-tender 
regard for the poet, so ready was she to discourse ardently 
about him. 

♦You are interested in Mr. Trewe, I know, ma'am,* 
she said ; ' and he has just sent to say that he is going 
to call to-morrow afternoon to look up some books of 
his that he wants, if I'll be in, and he may select them 
from your room ? ' 

' O yes ! ' 

• You could very well meet Mr. Trewe then, if you'd 
like to be in the way ! ' 

She promised with secret delight, and went to bed 
musing of him. 

Next morning her husband observed : ' I've been 
thinking of what you said, Ell : that I have gone about 
a good deal and left you without much to amuse you. 
Perhaps it's true. To-day, as there's not much sea, I'll 
take you with me on board the yacht.* 

For the first time in her experience of such an offer 
Ella was not glad. But she accepted it for the moment. 
The time for setting out drew near, and she went to get 
ready. She stood reflecting. The longing to see the 

13 



WESSEX TALES 

poet she was now distinctly in love with overpowered 
all other considerations. 

• I don't want to go,* she said to herself. * I can't 
bear to be away ! And I won't go.' 

She told her husband that she had changed her 
mind about wishing to sail. He was indifferent, and 
went his way. 

For the rest of the day the house was quiet, the 
children having gone out upon the sands. The blinds 
waved in the sunshine to the soft, steady stroke of the 
sea beyond the wall; and the notes of the Green 
Silesian band, a troop of foreign gentlemen hired for 
the season, had drawn almost all the residents and pro- 
menaders away from the vicinity of Coburg House. A 
knock was audible at the door. 

Mrs. Marchmill did not hear any servant go to 
answer it, and she became impatient. The books were 
in the room where she sat ; but nobody came up. She 
rang the bell. 

♦There is some person waiting at the door,' she 
said. 

* O no, ma'am 1 He's gone long ago. I answered 
it.' 

Mrs. Hooper came in herself. 

* So disappointing ! ' she said. * Mr. Trewe not 
coming after all I ' 

' But I heard him knock, I fancy 1 ' 

• No ; that was somebody inquiring for lodgings who 
came to the wrong house. I forgot to tell you that Mr. 
Trewe sent a note just before lunch to say I needn't 
get any tea for him, as he should not require the books, 
and wouldn't come to select them.' 

Ella was miserable, and for a long time could not 
even re-read his mournful ballad on ' Severed Lives,' 
so aching was her erratic little heart, and so tearful her 
eyes. When the children came in with wet stockings, 
and ran up to her to tell her of their adventures, she 

X4 



^ AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

could not feel that she cared about them half as much 
as usual. 



* Mrs. Hooper, have you a photograph of — the gentle- 
man who lived here ? ' She was getting to be curiously 
shy in mentioning his name. 

'Why, yes. It's in the ornamental frame on the 
mantelpiece in your own bedroom, ma'am.' 

• No ; the Royal Duke and Duchess are in that.* 
'Yes, so they are; but he's behind them. He 

belongs rightly to that frame, which I bought on pur- 
pose ; but as he went away he said : " Cover me up 
from those strangers that are coming, for God's sake. 
I don't want them staring at me, and I am sure they 
won't want me staring at them." So I slipped in the 
Duke and Duchess temporarily in front of him, as they 
had no frame, and Royalties are more suitable for letting 
furnished than a private young man. If you take 'em 
out you'll see him under. Lord, ma'am, he wouldn't 
mind if he knew it ! He didn't think the next tenant 
would be such an attractive lady as you, or he wouldn't 
have thought of hiding himself, perhaps.' 

' Is he handsome ? ' she asked timidly. 

'/call him so. Some, perhaps, wouldn't.' 

' Should I ? ' she asked, with eagerness. 

'I think you would, though some would say he's 
more striking than handsome; a large-eyed thoughtful 
fellow, you know, with a very electric flash in his eye 
when he looks round quickly, such as you'd expect a 
poet to be who doesn't get his living by it.' 

' How old is he ? * 

' Several years older than yourself, ma'am ; about 
thirty-one or two, I think.' 

Ella was, as a matter of fact, a few months over thirty 
herself; but she did not look nearly so much. Though 
so immature in nature, she was entering on that tract 

«5 



WESSEX TALES 

of life in which emotional women begin to suspect that 
last love may be stronger than first love ; and she would 
soon, alas, enter on the still more melancholy tract when 
at least the vainer ones of her sex shrink from receiving 
a male visitor otherwise than with their backs to the 
window or the blinds half down. She reflected on Mrs. 
Hooper's remark, and said no more about age. 

Just then a telegram was brought up. It came from 
her husband, who had gone down the Channel as far as 
Budmouth with his friends in the yacht, and would not 
be able to get back till next day. 

After her light dinner Ella idled about the shore 
with the children till dusk, thinking of the yet uncovered 
photograph in her room, with a serene sense of some- 
thing ecstatic to come. For, with the subtle luxurious- 
ness of fancy in which this young woman was an adept, 
on learning that her husband was to be absent that 
night she had refrained from incontinently rushing up- 
stairs and opening the picture-frame, preferring to reserve 
the inspection till she could be alone, and a more 
romantic tinge be imparted to the occasion by silence, 
candles, solemn sea and stars outside, than was afforded 
by the garish afternoon sunlight. 

The children had been sent to bed, and Ella soon 
followed, though it was not yet ten o'clock. To gratify 
her passionate curiosity she now made her preparations, 
first getting rid of superfluous garments and putting on 
her dressing-gown, then arranging a chair in front of 
the table and reading several pages of Trewe's tenderest 
utterances. Then she fetched the portrait-frame to the 
light, opened the back, took out the likeness, and set it 
up before her. 

It was a striking countenance to look upon. The 
poet wore a luxuriant black moustache and imperial, 
and a slouched hat which shaded the forehead. The 
large dark eyes, described by the landlady, showed an 
unlimited capacity for misery; they looked out from 

x6 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

beneath well-shaped brows as if they were reading the 
universe in the microcosm of the confronter's face, and 
were not altogether overjoyed at what the spectacle 
portended. 

Ella murmured in her lowest, richest, tenderest tone : 
* And it's you who've so cruelly eclipsed me these many 
times ! ' 

As she gazed long at the portrait she fell into thought, 
till her eyes filled with tears, and she touched the card- 
board with her lips. Then she laughed with a nervous 
lightness, and wiped her eyes. 

She thought how wicked she was, a woman having 
a husband and three children, to let her mind stray to a 
stranger in this unconscionable manner. No, he was 
not a stranger ! She knew his thoughts and feelings as 
well as she knew her own ; they were, in fact, the self- 
same thoughts and feelings as hers, which her husband 
distinctly lacked ; perhaps luckily for himself, considering 
that he had to provide for family expenses. 

* He's nearer my real self, he's more intimate with the 
real me than Will is, after all, even though I've never 
seen him,' she said. 

She laid his book and picture on the table at the 
bedside, and when she was reclining on the pillow she 
re-read those of Robert Trewe's verses which she had 
marked from time to time as most touching and true. 
Putting these aside, she set up the photograph on its 
edge upon the coverlet, and contemplated it as she lay. 
Then she scanned again by the light of the candle the 
half-obUterated pencillings on the wall-paper beside her 
head. There they were — phrases, couplets, bouts-rimes, 
beginnings and middles of lines, ideas in the rough, like 
Shelley's scraps, and the least of them so intense, so 
sweet, so palpitating, that it seemed as if his very breath, 
warm and loving, fanned her cheeks from those walls, 
walls that had surrounded his head times and times as 
they surrounded her own now. He must often have 

X7 B 



WESSEX TALES 

put up his hand so — with the pencil in it. Yes, the 
writing was sideways, as it would be if executed by one 
who extended his arm thus. 

These inscribed shapes of the poet's world, 

' Forms more real than living man. 
Nurslings of immortality,' 

were, no doubt, the thoughts and spirit-strivings which 
had come to him in the dead of night, when he could 
let himself go and have no fear of the frost of criticism. 
No doubt they had often been written up hastily by the 
light of the moon, the rays of the lamp, in the blue-grey 
dawn, in full daylight perhaps never. And now her hair 
was dragging where his arm had lain when he secured 
the fugitive fancies ; she was sleeping on a poet's lips, 
immersed in the very essence of him, permeated by his 
spirit as by an ether. 

While she was dreaming the minutes away thus, a 
footstep came upon the stairs, and in a moment she 
heard her husband's heavy step on the landing im- 
mediately without. 

' Ell, where are you ? ' 

What possessed her she could not have described, 
but, with an instinctive objection to let her husband 
know what she had been doing, she slipped the photo- 
graph under the pillow just as he flung open the door, 
with the air of a man who had dined not badly. 

* O, I beg pardon,' said William Marchmill, ' Have 
you a headache ? I am afraid I have disturbed you.' 

* No, I've not got a headache,* said she. • How is 
it you've come ? ' 

'Well, we found we could get back in very good 
time after all, and I didn't want to make another day 
of it, because of going somewhere else to-morrow.' 

* Shall I come down again ? ' 

'O no. I'm as tired as a dog. I've had a good 
feed, and I shall turn in straight off. I want to get 

z8 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

out at six o'clock to-morrow if I can. ... I shan't 
disturb you by my getting up; it will be long before 
you are awake.' And he came forward into the room. 

While her eyes followed his movements, Ella softly 
pushed the photograph further out of sight. 

' Sure you're not ill ? ' he asked, bending over her. 

' No, only wicked ! ' 

' Never mind that.' And he stooped and kissed 
her. 

Next morning Marchmill was called at six o'clock; 
and in waking and yawning she heard him muttering to 
himself: 'What the deuce is this that's been crackling 
under me so ? ' Imagining her asleep he searched round 
him and withdrew something. Through her half-opened 
eyes she perceived it to be Mr. Trewe. 

* Well, I'm damned ! ' her husband exclaimed. 
' What, dear ? ' said she. 

* O, you are awake ? Ha ! ha ! ' 
' What do you mean ? ' 

' Some bloke's photograph — a friend of our landlady's, 
I suppose. I wonder how it came here; whisked off 
the table by accident perhaps when they were making 
the bed.' 

* I was looking at it yesterday, and it must have 
dropped in then.' 

* O, he's a friend of yours ? Bless his picturesque 
heart ! ' 

Ella's loyalty to the object of her admiration could 
not endure to hear him ridiculed. ' He's a clever 
man ! ' she said, with a tremor in her gentle voice 
which she herself felt to be absurdly uncalled for. 
' He is a rising poet — the gentleman who occupied two 
of these rooms before we came, though I've never 
seen him.' 

* How do you know, if you've never seen him ? ' 
'Mrs. Hooper told me when she showed me the 

photograph.' 

19 



* WESSEX TALES 

' O j well, I must up and be off. I shall be home 
rather early. Sorry I can't take you to-day, dear. 
Mind the children don't go getting drowned.' 

That day Mrs. Marchmill inquired if Mr. Trewe were 
likely to call at any other time. 

* Yes,' said Mrs. Hooper. ' He's coming this day 
week to stay with a friend near here till you leave. 
He'll be sure to call.' 

Marchmill did return quite early in the afternoon ; 
and, opening some letters which had arrived in his 
absence, declared suddenly that he and his family would 
have to leave a week earlier than they had expected to 
do — in short, in three days. 

'Surely we can stay a week longer?' she pleaded. 
•I like it here.' 

' I don't. It is getting rather slow.' 

* Then you might leave me and the children ! ' 

* How perverse you are, Ell ! What's the use ? 
And have to come to fetch you ! No : we'll all return 
together ; and we'll make out our time in North Wales 
or Brighton a little later on. Besides, you've three 
days longer yet.' 

It seemed to be her doom not to meet the man 
for whose rival talent she had a despairing admira- 
tion, and to whose person she was now absolutely 
attached. Yet she determined to make a last effort; 
and having gathered from her landlady that Trewe 
was living in a lonely spot not far from the fashion- 
able town on the Island opposite, she crossed over in 
the packet from the neighbouring pier the following 
afternoon. 

What a useless journey it was ! Ella knew but 
vaguely where the house stood, and when she fancied 
she had found it, and ventured to inquire of a pedestrian 
if he lived there, the answer returned by the man was 
that he did not know. And if he did live there, how 
could she call upon him ? Some women might have 

20 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

the assurance to do it, but she had not. How crazy 
he would think her. She might have asked him to 
call upon her, perhaps; but she had not the courage 
for that, either. She Hngered mournfully about the 
picturesque seaside eminence till it was time to return 
to the town and enter the steamer for recrossing, 
reaching home for dinner without having been greatly 
missed. 

At the last moment, unexpectedly enough, her 
husband said that he should have no objection to 
letting her and the children stay on till the end of the 
week, since she wished to do so, if she felt herself able 
to get home without him. She concealed the pleasure 
this extension of time gave her; and Marchmill went 
off the next morning alone. 

But the week passed, and Trewe did not call. 

On Saturday morning the remaining members of the 
Marchmill family departed from the place which had 
been productive of so much fervour in her. The dreary, 
dreary train ; the sun shining in moted beams upon the 
hot cushions; the dusty permanent way; the mean 
rows of wire — these things were her accompaniment : 
while out of the window the deep blue sea-levels dis- 
appeared from her gaze, and v/ith them her poet's 
home. Heavy-hearted, she tried to read, and wept 
instead. 

Mr. Marchmill was in a thriving way of business, 
and he and his family lived in a large new house, which 
stood in rather extensive grounds a few miles outside 
the city wherein he carried on his trade. Ella's life 
was lonely here, as the suburban life is apt to be, 
particularly at certain seasons ; and she had ample time 
to indulge her taste for lyric and elegiac composition. 
She had hardly got back when she encountered a piece 
by Robert Trewe in the new number of her favourite 
magazine, which must have been written almost im- 
mediately before her visit to Solentsea, for it contained 

21 



WESSEX TALES 

the very couplet she had seen pencilled on the wall- 
paper by the bed, and Mrs. Hooper had declared to 
be recent. Ella could resist no longer, but seizing a 
pen impulsively, wrote to him as a brother-poet, using 
the name of John Ivy, congratulating him in her 
letter on his triumphant executions in metre and 
rhythm of thoughts that moved his soul, as compared 
with her own brow-beaten efforts in the same pathetic 
trade. 

To this address there came a response in a few days, 
little as she had dared to hope for it— a civil and brief 
note, in which the young poet stated that, though he 
was not well acquainted with Mr. Ivy's verse, he re- 
called the name as being one he had seen attached 
to some very promising pieces ; that he was glad to 
gain Mr. Ivy's acquaintance by letter, and should cer- 
tainly look with much interest for his productions in 
the future. 

There must have been something juvenile or timid in 
her own epistle, as one ostensibly coming from a man, 
she declared to herself; for Trewe quite adopted the 
tone of an elder and superior in this reply. But what 
did it matter? He had replied; he had written to 
her with his own hand from that very room she 
knew so well, for he was now back again in his 
quarters. 

The correspondence thus begun was continued for 
two months or more, Ella Marchmill sending him from 
time to time some that she considered to be the best of 
her pieces, which he very kindly accepted, though he 
did not say he sedulously read them, nor did he send 
her any of his own in return. Ella would have been 
more hurt at this than she was if she had not known 
that Trewe laboured under the impression that she was 
one of his own sex. 

Yet the situation was unsatisfactory. A flattering 
little voice told her that, were he only to see her, 

aa 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

matters would be otherwise. No doubt she would have 
helped on this by making a frank confession of woman- 
hood, to begin with, if something had not happened, to 
her delight, to render it unnecessary. A friend of her 
husband's, the editor of the most important newspaper 
in the city and county, who was dining with them one 
day, observed during their conversation about the poet 
that his (the editor's) brother the landscape-painter was 
a friend of Mr. Trewe's, and that the two men were at 
that very moment in Wales together. 

Ella was slightly acquainted with the editor's brother. 
The next morning down she sat and wrote, inviting him 
to stay at her house for a short time on his way back, 
and requesting him to bring with him, if practicable, his 
companion Mr. Trewe, whose acquaintance she was 
anxious to make. The answer arrived after some few 
days. Her correspondent and his friend Trewe would 
have much satisfaction in accepting her invitation on 
their way southward, which would be on such and such 
a day in the following week. 

Ella was blithe and buoyant. Her scheme had 
succeeded ; her beloved though as yet unseen one was 
coming. " Behold, he standeth behind our wall ; he 
looked forth at the windows, showing himself through 
the lattice," she thought ecstatically. " And, lo, the 
winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers 
appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds 
is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our 
land." 

But it was necessary to consider the details of lodging 
and feeding him. This she did most solici<;ously, and 
awaited the pregnant day and hour. 

It was about five in the afternoon when she heard a 
ring at the door and the editor's brother's voice in the 
hall. Poetess as she was, or as she thought herself, she 
had not been too sublime that day to dress with infinite 
trouble in a fashionable robe of rich material, having a 

23 



WESSEX TALES 

faint resemblance to the chiton of the Greeks, a style 
just then in vogue among ladies of an artistic and 
romantic turn, which had been obtained by Ella of her 
Bond Street dressmaker when she was last in London, 
Her visitor entered the drawing-room. She looked 
towards his rear ; nobody else came through the door. 
Where, in the name of the God of Love, was Robert 
Trewe ? 

'O, I'm sorry,' said the painter, after their intro- 
ductory words had been spoken. * Trewe is a curious 
fellow, you know, Mrs. Marchmill. He said he'd come ; 
then he said he couldn't. He's rather dusty. We've 
been doing a few miles with knapsacks, you know; and 
he wanted to get on home.' 

' He — he's not coming ? ' 

' He's not ; and he asked me to make his apologies.' 

•When did you p-p-part from him?' she asked, 
her nether lip starting off quivering so much that it 
was like a tt'emolo-sto^ opened in her speech. She 
longed to run away from this dreadful bore and cry 
her eyes out. 

* Just now, in the turnpike road yonder there.' 

♦ What ! he has actually gone past my gates ? ' 

' Yes. When we got to them — handsome gates they 
are, too, the finest bit of modern wrought-iron work I 
have seen — when we came to them we stopped, talking 
there a little while, and then he wished me good-bye and 
went on. The truth is, he's a little bit depressed just 
now, and doesn't want to see anybody. He's a very 
good fellow, and a warm friend, but a little uncertain 
and gloomy sometimes ; he thinks too much of things. 
His poetry is rather too erotic and passionate, you know, 
for some tastes ; and he has just come in for a terrible 
slating from the Revieiv that was published yester- 
day; he saw a copy of it at the station by accident 
Perhaps you've read it ? ' 

'No.' 

24 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

'So much the better. O, it is not worth thinking 
of; just one of those articles written to order, to please 
the narrow-minded set of subscribers upon whom the 
circulation depends. But he's upset by it. He says it 
is the misrepresentation that hurts him so ; that, though 
he can stand a fair attack, he can't stand lies that he's 
powerless to refute and stop from spreading. That's 
just Trewe's weak point. He lives so much by himself 
that these things affect him much more than they would 
if he were in the bustle of fashionable or commercial life. 
So he wouldn't come here, making the excuse that it all 
looked so new and monied — if you'll pardon * 

' But — he must have known — there was sympathy 
here ! Has he never said anything about getting letters 
from this address ? ' 

' Yes, yes, he has, from John Ivy — perhaps a relative 
of yours, he thought, visiting here at the time ? ' 

' Did he— like Ivy, did he say ? ' 

' Well, I don't know that he took any great interest 
in Ivy. 

' Or in his poems ? ' 

' Or in his poems — so far as I know, that is.' 

Robert Trewe took no interest in her house, in her 
poems, or in their writer. As soon as she could get 
away she went into the nursery and tried to let off her 
emotion by unnecessarily kissing the children, till she 
had a sudden sense of disgust at being reminded how 
plain-looking they were, like their father. 

The obtuse and single - minded landscape - painter 
never once perceived from her conversation that it was 
only Trewe she wanted, and not himself. He made 
the best of his visit, seeming to enjoy the society of 
Ella's husband, who also took a great fancy to him, 
and showed him everywhere about the neighbourhood, 
neither of them noticing Ella's mood. 

The painter had been gone only a day or two when, 
while sitting upstairs alone one morning, she glanced over 

25 



WESSEX TALES 

the London paper just arrived, and read the following 
paragraph : — 

* SUICIDE OF A POET 

* Mr. Robert Trewe, who has been favourably known for some 
years as one of our rising lyrists, committed suicide at his lodgings 
at Solentsea on Saturday evening last by shooting himself in the 
right temple with a revolver. Readers hardly need to be reminded 
that Mr. Trewe has recently attracted the attention of a much wider 
public than had hitherto known him, by his new volume of verse, 
mostly of an impassioned kind, entitled " Lyrics to a Woman 
Unknown," which has been already favourably noticed in these 
pages for the extraordinary gamut of feeling it traverses, and which 
has been made the subject of a severe, if not ferocious, criticism in 

the Review. It is supposed, though not certainly known, that 

the article may have partially conduced to the sad act, as a copy of 
the review in question was found on his writing-table ; and he has 
been observed to be in a somewhat depressed state of mind since 
the critique appeared.' 

Then came the report of the inquest, at which the fol- 
lowing letter was read, it having been addressed to a 
friend at a distance : — 

' Dear , — Before these lines reach your hands I shall be 

delivered from the inconveniences of seeing, hearing, and knowing 
more of the things around me. I will not trouble you by giving my 
reasons for the step I have taken, though I can assure you they were 
sound and logical. Perhaps had I been blessed with a mother, or 
a sister, or a female friend of another sort tenderly devoted to me, 
I might have thought it worth while to continue my present exist- 
ence. I have long dreamt of such an unattainable creature, as you 
know ; and she, this undiscoverable, elusive one, inspired my last 
volume ; the imaginary woman alone, for, in spite of what has been 
said in some quarters, there is no real woman behind the title. She 
has continued to the last unrevealed, unmet, unwon. I think it 
desirable to mention this in order that no blame may attach to any 
real woman as having been the cause of my decease by cruel or 
cavalier treatment of me. Tell my landlady that I am sorry to have 
caused her this unpleasantness ; but my occupancy of the rooms 
will soon be forgotten. There are ample funds in my name at the 
bank to pay all expenses. R. Trewk.' 

26 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

Ella sat for a while as if stunned, then rushed into 
the adjoining chamber and flung herself upon her face 
on the bed. 

Her grief and distraction shook her to pieces ; and 
she lay in this frenzy of sorrow for more than an hour. 
Broken words came every now and then from her quiver- 
ing lips : ' O, if he had only known of me — known of 
me — me ! ... O, if I had only once met him — only 
once ; and put my hand upon his hot forehead — kissed 
him — let him know how I loved him — that I would 
have suffered shame and scorn, would have lived and 
died, for him ! Perhaps it would have saved his dear 
life ! . . . But no — it was not allowed ! God is a 
jealous God; and that happiness was not for him 
and me ! ' 

Al' possibilities were over ; the meeting was stultified. 
Yet it was almost visible to her in her fantasy even now, 
though it could never be substantiated — 

• The hour which might have been, yet might not be, 
Which man's and woman's heart conceived and bore. 
Yet whereof life was barren.* 



She wrote to the landlady at Solentsea in the third 
person, in as subdued a style as she could command, 
enclosing a postal order for a sovereign, and informing 
Mrs. Hooper that Mrs. Marchmill had seen in the 
papers the sad account of the poet's death, and having 
been, as Mrs. Hooper was aware, much interested in 
Mr. Trewe during her stay at Coburg House, she would 
be obliged if Mrs. Hooper could obtain a small portion 
of his hair before his coffin was closed down, and send 
it her as a memorial of him, as also the photograph that 
was in the frame. 

By the return-post a letter arrived containing what 
had been requested. Ella wept over the portrait and 

27 



WESSEX TALES . 

secured it in her private drawer ; the lock of hair she 
tied with white ribbon and put in her bosom, whence 
she drew it and kissed it every now and then in some 
unobserved nook. 

' What's the matter ? * said her husband, looking up 
from his newspaper on one of these occasions. ' Crying 
over something ? A lock of hair ? Wliose is it ? ' 

* He's dead ! ' she murmured. 
' Who ? ' 

' I don't want to tell you. Will, just now, unless you 
insist 1 ' she said, a sob hanging heavy in her voice. 
' O, all right.' 

* Do you mind my refusing ? I will tell you some 
day.' 

* It doesn't matter in the least, of course.' 

He walked away whistHng a few bars of no tune in 
particular; and when he had got down to his factory 
in the city the subject came into Marchmill's head 
again. 

He, too, was aware that a suicide had taken place 
recently at the house they had occupied at Solentsea. 
Having seen the volume of poems in his wife's hand 
of late, and heard fragments of the landlady's conver- 
sation about Trewe when they were her tenants, he all 
at once said to himself, 'Why of course it's he ! . . . 
How the devil did she get to know him? What sly 
animals women are ! * 

Then he placidly dismissed the matter, and went on 
with his daily affairs. By this time Ella at home had 
come to a determination. Mrs Hooper, in sending the 
hair and photograph, had informed her of the day of 
the funeral ; and as the morning and noon wore on an 
overpowering wish to know where they were laying him 
took possession of the sympathetic woman. Caring very 
little now what her husband or any one else might think 
of her eccentricities, she wrote Marchmill a brief note, 
stating that she was called away for the afternoon and 

38 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

evening, but -would return on the following morning. 
This she left on his desk, and having given the same 
information to the servants, went out of the house on 
foot. 

When Mr. Marchmill reached home early in the 
afternoon the servants looked anxious. The nurse 
took him privately aside, and hinted that her mistress's 
sadness during the past few days had been such that 
she feared she had gone out to drown herself. March- 
mill reflected. Upon the whole he thought that she 
had not done that. Without saying whither he was 
bound he also started off, telling them not to sit up 
for him. He drove to the railway-station, and took a 
ticket for Solentsea. 

It was dark when he reached the place, though he 
had come by a fast train, and he knew that if his wife 
had preceded him thither it could only have been by a 
slower train, arriving not a great while before his own. 
The season at Solentsea was now past : the parade was 
gloomy, and the flys were few and cheap. He asked 
the way to the Cemetery, and soon reached it. The 
gate was locked, but the keeper let him in, declaring, 
however, that there was nobody within the precincts. 
Although it was not late, the autumnal darkness had 
now become intense; and he found some difificulty in 
keeping to the serpentine path which led to the quarter 
where, as the man had told him, the one or two inter- 
ments for the day had taken place. He stepped upon 
the grass, and, stumbling over some pegs, stooped now 
and then to discern if possible a figure against the sky. 
He could see none; but lighting on a spot where the 
soil was trodden, beheld a crouching object beside a 
newly made grave. She heard him, and sprang up. 

' Ell, how silly this is ! ' he said indignantly. ' Run- 
ning away from home — I never heard such a thing I 
Of course I am not jealous of this unfortunate man; 
but it is too ridiculous that you, a married woman with 

»9 



WESSEX TALES 

three children and a fourth coining, should go losing 
your head like this over a dead lover! . . . Do you 
know you were locked in ? You might not have been 
able to get out all night.' 
She did not answer. 

* I hope it didn't go far between you and him, for 
your own sake.* 

* Don't insult me, Will.' 

' Mind, I won't have any more of this sort of thing ; 
do you hear ? ' 

' Very well,* she said. 

He drew her arm within his own, and conducted her 
out of the Cemetery. It was impossible to get back 
that night ; and not wishing to be recognized in their 
present sorry condition, he took her to a miserable little 
coffee-house close to the station, whence they departed 
early in the morning, travelling almost without speaking, 
under the sense that it was one of those dreary situations 
occurring in married life which words could not mend, 
and reaching their own door at noon. 

The months passed, and neither of the twain ever 
ventured to start a conversation upon this episode. 
Ella seemed to be only too frequently in a sad and 
listless mood, which might almost have been called 
pining. The time was approaching when she would 
have to undergo the stress of childbirth for a fourth 
time, and that apparently did not tend to raise her 
spirits. 

' I don't think I shall get over it this time ! ' she said 
one day. 

* Pooh ! what childish foreboding 1 Why shouldn't 
it be as well now as ever ? ' 

She shook her head. * I feel almost sure I am going 
to die ; and I should be glad, if it were not for Nelly, 
and Frank, and Tiny.' 

' And me 1 ' 

•You'll soon find somebody to fill my pUce,' she 

30 



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN 

murmured, with a sad smile. ' And you'll have a perfect 
right to ; I assure you of that.' 

' Ell, you are not thinking still about that — poetical 
friend of yours ? ' 

She neither admitted nor denied the charge. ' I am 
not going to get over my illness this time,' she reiterated. 
• Something tells me I shan't.' 

This view of things was rather a bad beginning, as 
it usually is ; and, in fact, six weeks later, in the month 
of May, she was lying in her room, pulseless and blood- 
less, with hardly strength enough left to follow up one 
feeble breath with another, the infant for whose un- 
necessary life she was slowly parting with her own being 
fat and well. Just before her death she spoke to 
Marchmill softly : — 

*Will, I want to confess to you the entire circum- 
stances of that — about you know what — that time we 
visited Solentsea. I can't tell what possessed me — how 
I could forget you so, my husband ! But I had got 
into a morbid state : I thought you had been unkind ; 
that you had neglected me ; that you weren't up to my 
intellectual level, while he was, and far above it. I 
wanted a fuller appreciator, perhaps, rather than another 
lover ' 

She could get no further then for very exhaustion ; 
and she went off in sudden collapse a few hours later, 
without having said anything more to her husband on 
the subject of her love for the poet. William Marchmill, 
in truth, like most husbands of several years' standing, 
was little disturbed by retrospective jealousies, and had 
not shown the least anxiety to press her for confessions 
concerning a man dead and gone beyond any power of 
inconveniencing him more. 

But when she had been buried a couple of years it 
chanced one day that, in turning over some forgotten 
papers that he wished to destroy before his second wife 
entered the house, he lighted on a lock of hair in an 

3^ 



WESSEX TALES 

envelope, with the photograph of the deceased poet, a 
date being written on the back in his late wife's hand. 
It was that of the time they spent at Solentsea. 

Marchmill looked long and musingly at the hair and 
portrait, for something struck him. Fetching the little 
boy who had been the death of his mother, now a noisy 
toddler, he took him on his knee, held the lock of hair 
against the child's head, and set up the photograph on 
the table behind, so that he could closely compare the 
features each countenance presented. There were un- 
doubtedly strong traces of resemblance ; the dreamy and 
peculiar expression of the poet's face sat, as the trans- 
mitted idea, upon the child's, and the hair was of the 
same hue. 

' I'm damned if I didn't think so ! ' murmured March- 
mill. * Then she did play me false with that fellow 
at the lodgings ! Let me see : the dates — the second 
week in August. . . . the third week in May. . . . 
Yes . . . yes. . . . Get away, you poor little brat I 
You are nothing to me 1 ' 

189* 



TBE THREE STRANGERS 



THE THREE STRANGERS 

A^IONG the few features of agricultural England 
which retain an appearance but little modified by the 
lapse of centuries, may be reckoned the high, grassy 
and furzy downs, coombs, or ewe-leases, as they are in- 
differently called, that fill a large area of certain counties 
in the south and south-west. If any mark of human 
occupation is met with hereon, it usually takes the form 
of the solitary cottage of some shepherd. 

Fifty years ago such a lonely cottage stood on such 
a down, and may possibly be standing there now. In 
spite of its loneliness, however, the spot, by actual 
measurement, was not more than five miles from a 
county-town. Yet that affected it little. Five miles of 
irregular upland, during the long inimical seasons, with 
their sleets, snows, rains, and mists, afford withdrawing 
space enough to isolate a Timon or a Nebuchadnezzar ; 
much less, in fair weather, to please that less repellent 
tribe, the poets, philosophers, artists, and others who 
'conceive and meditate of pleasant things.' 

Some old earthen camp or barrow, some clump of 
trees, at least some starved fragment of ancient hedge 
is usually taken advantage of in the erection of these 
forlorn dwellings. But, in the present case, such a 
kind of shelter had been disregarded. Higher Crow- 
stairs, as the house was called, stood quite detached and 

35 



WES SEX TALES 

undefended. The only reason for its precise situation 
seemed to be the crossing of two footpaths at right 
angles hard by, which may have crossed there and thus 
for a good five hundred years. Hence the house was 
exposed to the elements on all sides. But, though the 
wind up here blew unmistakably when it did blow, 
and the rain hit hard whenever it fell, the various 
weathers of the winter season were not quite so for- 
midable on the coomb as they were imagined to be by 
dwellers on low ground. The raw rimes were not so 
pernicious as in the hollows, and the frosts were scarcely 
so severe. When the shepherd and his family who 
tenanted the house were pitied for their sufferings from 
the exposure, they said that upon the whole they were 
less inconvenienced by ' wuzzes and flames ' (hoarses 
and phlegms) than when they had lived by the stream 
of a snug neighbouring valley. 

The night of March 28, 182-, was precisely one of 
the nights that were wont to call forth these expressions 
of commiseration. The level rainstorm smote walls, 
slopes, and hedges like the clothyard shafts of Senlac 
and Crecy. Such sheep and outdoor animals as had 
no shelter stood with their buttocks to the winds ; while 
the tails of little birds trying to roost on some scraggy 
thorn were blown inside-out like umbrellas. The 
gable-end of the cottage was stained with wet, and 
the eavesdroppings flapped against the wall. Yet 
never was commiseration for the shepherd more mis- 
placed. For that cheerful rustic was entertaining a 
large party in glorification of the christening of his 
second girl. 

The guests had arrived before the rain began to fall, 
and they were all now assembled in the chief or living 
room of the dwelling. A glance into the apartment at 
eight o'clock on this eventful evening would have re- 
sulted in the opinion that it was as cosy and comfortable 
a nook as could be wished for in boisterous weather, 

36 



THE THREE STRANGERS 

The calling of its inhabitant was proclaimed by a 
number of highly-polished sheep-crooks without stems 
that were hung ornamentally over the fireplace, the curl 
of each shining crook varying from the antiquated type 
engraved in the patriarchal pictures of old family Bibles 
to the most approved fashion of the last local sheep-fair. 
The room was lighted by half-a-dozen candles, having 
wicks only a trifle smaller than the grease which 
enveloped them, in candlesticks that were never used 
but at high-days, holy-days, and family feasts. The 
lights were scattered about the room, two of them stand- 
ing on the chimney-piece. This position of candles 
was in itself significant. Candles on the chimney-piece 
always meant a party. 

On the hearth, in front of a back-brand to give 
substance, blazed a fire of thorns, that crackled * like 
the laughter of the fool.* 

Nineteen persons were gathered here. Of these, 
five women, wearing gowns of various bright hues, sat 
in chairs along the wall; girls shy and not shy filled 
the window-bench ; four men, including Charley Jake 
the hedge-carpenter, Elijah New the parish-clerk, and 
John Pitcher, a neighbouring dairyman, the shepherd's 
father-in-law, lolled in the settle; a young man and 
maid, who were blushing over tentative pourparlers on 
a life-companionship, sat beneath the corner-cupboard; 
and an elderly engaged man of fifty or upward moved 
restlessly about from spots where his betrothed was 
not to the spot where she was. Enjoyment was pretty 
general, and so much the more prevailed in being 
unhampered by conventional restrictions. Absolute 
confidence in each other's good opinion begat perfect 
ease, while the finishing stroke of manner, amounting to 
a truly princely serenity, was lent to the majority by the 
absence of any expression or trait denoting that they 
wished to get on in the world, enlarge their minds, or 
do any eclipsing thing whatever — which nowadays so 

37 



WESSEX TALES 

generally nips the bloom and bonhomie of all except the 
two extremes of the social scale. 

Shepherd Fennel had married well, his wife being 
a dairyman's daughter from a vale at a distance, who 
brought fifty guineas in her pocket — and kept them 
there, till they should be required for ministering to 
the needs of a coming family. This frugal woman 
had been somewhat exercised as to the character that 
should be given to the gathering. A sit-still party had 
its advantages ; but an undisturbed position of ease in 
chairs and settles was apt to lead on the men to such 
an unconscionable deal of toping that they would 
sometimes fairly drink the house dry, A dancing- 
party was the alternative ; but this, while avoiding the 
foregoing objection on the score of good drink, had a 
counterbalancing disadvantage in the fnatter of good 
victuals, the ravenous appetites engendered by the exer- 
cise causing immense havoc in the buttery. Shepherdess 
Fennel fell back upovi the intermediate plan of mingling 
short dances with short periods of talk and singing, so 
AS to hinder any ungovernable rage in either. But this 
scheme was entirely confined to her own gentle mind : 
the shepherd himself was in the mood to exhibit the 
most reckless phases of hospitality. 

The fiddler was a boy of those parts, about twelve 
years of age, who had a wonderful dexterity in jigs and 
reels, though his fingers were so small and short as to 
necessitate a constant shifting for the high notes, from 
which he scrambled back to the first position with 
sounds not of unmixed purity of tone. At seven the 
shrill tweedle-dee of this youngster had begun, accom- 
panied by a booming ground-bass from Elijah New, 
the parish-clerk, who had thoughtfully brought with him 
his favourite musical instrument, the serpent. Dancing 
was instantaneous, Mrs. Fennel privately enjoining the 
players on no account to let the dance exceed the length 
of a quarter of an hour. 

38 



THE THREE STRANGERS 

But Elijah and the boy, in the excitement of their 
position, quite forgot the injunction. Moreover, -Oliver 
Giles, a man of seventeen, one of the dancers, who was 
enamoured of his partner, a fair girl of thirty-three rolling 
years, had recklessly handed a new crown-piece to the 
musicians, as a bribe to keep going as long as they had 
muscle and wind. Mrs. Fennel, seeing the steam begin 
to generate on the countenances of her guests, crossed 
over and touched the fiddler's elbow and put her hand 
on the serpent's mouth. But they took no notice, and 
fearing she might lose her character of genial hostess if 
she were to interfere too markedly, she retired and sat 
down helpless. And so the dance whizzed on with 
cumulative fury, the performers moving in their planet- 
like courses, direct and retrograde, from apogee to peri- 
gee, till the hand of the well-kicked clock at the bottom 
of the room had travelled over the circumference of 
an hour. 

While these cheerful events were in course of enact- 
ment within Fennel's pastoral dwelling, an incident 
having considerable bearing on the party had occurred 
in the gloomy night without. Mrs. Fennel's concern 
about the growing fierceness of the dance corresponded 
in point of time with the ascent of a human figure to 
the solitary hill of Higher Crowstairs from the direction 
of the distant town. This personage strode on through 
the rain without a pause, following the little-worn path 
which, further on in its course, skirted the shepherd's 
cottage. 

It was nearly the time of full moon, and on this 
account, though the sky was lined with a uniform sheet 
of dripping cloud, ordinary objects out of doors were 
readily visible. The sad wan light revealed the lonely 
pedestrian to be a man of supple frame; his gait sug- 
gested that he had somewhat passed the period of 
perfect and instinctive agility, though not so far as 
to be otherwise than rapid of motion when occasion 
9 39 



WESSEX TALES 

required. At a rough guess, he might have been about 
forty years of age. He appeared tall, but a recruiting 
sergeant, or other person accustomed to the judging of 
men's heights by the eye, would have discerned that 
this was chiefly owing to his gauntness, and that he was 
not more than five-feet-eight or nine. 

Notwithstanding the regularity of his tread, there was 
caution in it, as in that of one who mentally feels his 
way ; and despite the fact that it was not a black coat 
nor a dark garment of any sort that he wore, there was 
something about him which suggested that he naturally 
belonged to the black-coated tribes of men. His clothes 
were of fustian, and his boots hobnailed, yet in his pro- 
gress he showed not the mud- accustomed bearing of 
hobnailed and fustianed peasantry. 

By the time that he had arrived abreast of the 
shepherd's premises the rain came down, or rather 
came along, with yet more determined violence. The 
outskirts of the little settlement partially broke the force 
of wind and rain, and this induced him to stand still. 
The most salient of the shepherd's domestic erections 
was an empty sty at the forward corner of his hedgeless 
garden, for in these latitudes the principle of masking 
the homelier features of your establishment by a con- 
ventional frontage was unknown. The traveller's eye 
was attracted to this small building by the pallid shine 
of the wet slates that covered it. He turned aside, 
and, finding it empty, stood under the pent-roof for 
shelter. 

While he stood, the boom of the serpent within the 
adjacent house, and the lesser strains of the fiddler, 
reached the spot as an accompaniment to the surging 
hiss of the flying rain on the sod, its louder beating on 
the cabbacje-leaves of the garden, on the eight or ten 
beehives just discernible by the path, and its dripping 
from the eaves into a row of buckets and pans that 
had been placed under the walls of the cottage. For 

40 



THE THREE STRANGERS 

at Higher Crowstairs, as at all such elevated domiciles, 
the grand difficulty of housekeeping was an insuffi- 
ciency of water; and a casual rainfall was utilized by 
turning out, as catchers, every utensil that the house 
contained. Some queer stories might be told of the 
contrivances for economy in suds and dish-waters that 
are absolutely necessitated in upland habitations during 
the droughts of summer. But at this season there were 
no such exigencies ; a mere acceptance of what the skies 
bestowed was sufficient for an abundant store. 

At last the notes of the serpent ceased and the 
house was silent. This cessation of activity aroused 
the solitary pedestrian from the reverie into which he 
had lapsed, and, emerging from the shed, with an 
apparently new intention, he walked up the path to 
the house-door. Arrived here, his first act was to 
kneel down on a large stone beside the row of vessels, 
and to drink a copious draught from one of them. 
Having quenched his thirst he rose and lifted his hand 
to knock, but paused with his eye upon the panel. 
Since the dark surface of the wood revealed absolutely 
nothing, it was evident that he must be mentally look- 
ing through the door, as if he wished to measure 
thereby all the possibilities that a house of this sort 
might include, and how they might bear upon the 
question of his entry. 

In his indecision he turned and surveyed the scene 
around. Not a soul was anywhere visible. The 
garden-path stretched downward from his feet, gleam- 
ing like the track of a snail ; the roof of the little well 
(mostly dry), the well-cover, the top rail of the garden- 
gate, were varnished with the same dull liquid glaze; 
while, far away in the vale, a faint whiteness of more 
than usual extent showed that the rivers were high in 
the meads. Beyond all this winked a few bleared 
lamplights through the beating drops — lights that de- 
noted the situation of the county-town from which ho 

41 



WESSEX TALES 

had appeared to come. The absence of all notes of 
life in that direction seemed to clinch his intentions, 
and he knocked at the door. 

Within, a desultory chat had taken the place of 
movement and musical sound. The hedge-carpenter 
was suggesting a song to the company, which nobody 
just then was inclined to undertake, so that the knock 
afforded a not unwelcome diversion. 

' Walk in ! ' said the shepherd promptly. 

The latch clicked upward, and out of the night our 
pedestrian appeared upon the door-mat. The shepherd 
arose, snuffed two of the nearest candles, and turned to 
look at him. 

Their hght disclosed that the stranger was dark in 
complexion and not unprepossessing as to feature. His 
hat, which for a moment he did not remove, hung 
low over his eyes, without concealing that they were 
large, open, and determined, moving with a flash rather 
than a glance round the room. He seemed pleased 
with his survey, and, baring his shaggy head, said, in 
a rich deep voice, ' The rain is so heavy, friends, that 
I ask leave to come in and rest awhile.' 

•To be sure, stranger,* said the shepherd. *And 
faith, you've been lucky in choosing your time, for we 
are having a bit of a fling for a glad cause — though, to 
be sure, a man could hardly wish that glad cause to 
happen more than once a year.' 

* Nor less,' spoke up a woman. ' For 'tis best to 
get your family over and done with, as soon as you 
can, so as to be all the earlier out of the fag o't.' 

' And what may be this glad cause ? ' asked the 
stranger. 

* A birth and christening,' said the shepherd. 

The stranger hoped his host might not be made un- 
happy either by too many or too few of such episodes, 
and being invited by a gesture to a pull at the mug, 
he readily acquiesced. His manner, ^hich, before enter- 

42 



*— .- 



THE THREE STRANGERS 



ing, had been so dubious, was now altogether that of a 
careless and candid man. 

* Late to be traipsing athwart this coomb — hey ? ' 
said the engaged man of fifty. 

'Late it is, master, as you say. — I'll take a seat in 
the chimney-corner, if you have nothing to urge against 
it, ma'am ; for I am a Uttle moist on the side that was 
next the rain.' 

Mrs. Shepherd Fennel assented, and made room 
for the self-invited comer, who, having got completely 
inside the chimney-corner, stretched out his legs and 
his arms with the expansiveness of a person quite at 
home. 

' Yes, I am rather cracked in the vamp,' he said freely, 
seeing that the eyes of the shepherd's wife fell upon his 
boots, 'and I am not well fitted either. I have had 
some rough times lately, and have been forced to pick 
up what I can get in the way of wearing, but I must 
find a suit better fit for working-days when I reach 
home.' 

* One of hereabouts ? ' she inquired. 

« Not quite that — further up the country.' 

' I thought so. And so be I ; and by your tongue 
you come from my neighbourhood.' 

' But you would hardly have heard of me,' he said 
quickly. ' My time would be long before yours, ma'am, 
you see.* 

This testimony to the youthfulness of his hostess 
had the effect of stopping her cross-examination. 

' There is only one thing more wanted to make me 
happy,' continued the new-comer. ' And that is a little 
baccy, which I am sorry to say I am out of.' 

' I'll fill your pipe,' said the shepherd. 

' I must ask you to lend me a pipe likewise.* 

• A smoker, and no pipe about 'ee ? ' 

• I have dropped it somewhere on the road.' 

The shepherd filled and handed him a new clay pipe, 

43 



WESSEX TALES 

saying, as he did so, ' Hand me your baccy box — I'll 
fill that too, now I am about it.' 

The man went through the movement of searching 
his pockets. 

' Lost that too ? ' said his entertainer, with some 
surprise. 

* I am afraid so,* said the man with some confusion. 
' Give it to me in a screw of paper.' Lighting his pipe 
at the candle with a suction that drew the whole flame 
into the bowl, he resettled himself in the corner and 
bent his looks upon the faint steam from his damp legs, 
as if he wished to say no more. 

Meanwhile the general body of guests had been taking 
little notice of this visitor by reason of an absorbing 
discussion in which they were engaged with the band 
about a tune for the next dance. The matter being 
settled, they were about to stand up when an interruption 
came in the shape of another knock at the door. 

At sound of the same the man in the . chimney- 
corner took up the poker and began stirring the brands 
as if doing it thoroughly were the one aim of his exist- 
ence ; and a second time the shepherd said, ' Walk in ! * 
In a moment another man stood upon the straw-woven 
door-mat. He too was a stranger. 

This individual was one of a type radically different 
from the first. There was more of the commonplace 
in his manner, and a certain jovial cosmopolitanism 
sat upon his features. He was several years older 
than the first arrival, his hair being slightly frosted, 
his eyebrows bristly, and his whiskers cut back from 
his cheeks. His face was rather full and flabby, and 
yet it was not altogether a face without power. A few 
grog-blossoms marked the neighbourhood of his nose. 
He flung back his long drab greatcoat, revealing that 
beneath it he wore a suit of cinder-gray shade through- 
out, large heavy seals, of some metal or other that 
would take a poUsh, dangling from his fob as his only 

44 



THE THREE STRANGERS 

personal ornament. Shaking the water-drops from his 
low-crowned glazed hat, he said, ' I must ask for a few 
minutes' shelter, comrades, or I shall be wetted to my 
skin before I get to Casterbridge.' 

* Make yourself at home, master,' said the shepherd, 
perhaps a trifle less heartily than on the first occasion. 
Not that Fennel had the least tinge of niggardliness 
in his composition ; but the room was far from large, 
spare chairs were not numerous, and damp companions 
were not altogether desirable at close quarters for the 
women and girls in their bright-coloured gowns. 

However, the second comer, after taking off his 
greatcoat, and hanging his hat on a nail in one of the 
ceiling-beams as if he had been specially invited to put 
it there, advanced and sat down at the table. This had 
been pushed so closely into the chimney-corner, to give 
all available room to the dancers, that its inner edge 
grazed the elbow of the man who had ensconced him- 
self by the fire; and thus the two strangers were 
brought into close companionship. They nodded to 
each other by way of breaking tlie ice of unacquaintance, 
and the first stranger handed his neighbour the family 
mug — a huge vessel of brown ware, having its upper 
edge worn away like a threshold by the rub of whole 
generations of thirsty lips that had gone the way of all 
flesh, and bearing the following inscription burnt upon 
its rotund side in yellow letters : — 

THERE IS NO FUN 
UNtIlL i CUM. 

The other man, nothing loth, raised the mug to his 
Jips, and drank on, and on, and on — till a curious 
blueness overspread the countenance cf the shepherd's 
wife, who had regarded with no little surprise the first 
stranger's free offer to the second of what did not 
belong to him to dispense. 

45 



WESSEX TALES 

* I knew it ! * said the toper to the shepherd with 
much satisfaction. ' When I walked up your garden 
before coming in, and saw the hives all of a row, I 
said to myself, " Where there's bees there's honey, and 
where there's honey there's mead." But mead of sach 
a truly comfortable sort as this I really didn't expect to 
meet in my older days.' He took yet another pull at 
the mug, till it assumed an ominous elevation. 

' Glad you enjoy it ! ' said the shepherd warmly. 

* It is goodish mead,' assented Mrs. Fennel, with an 
absence of enthusiasm which seemed to say that it was 
possible to buy praise for one's cellar at too heavy a 
price. 'It is trouble enough to make — and really I 
hardly think we shall make any more. For honey sells 
well, and we ourselves can make shift with a drop o' 
small mead and metheglin for common use from the 
comb-washings." 

' O, but you'll never have the heart ! ' reproachfully 
cried the stranger in cinder-gray, after taking up the 
mug a third time and setting it down empty. ' I love 
mead, when 'tis old like this, as I love to go to church 
o' Sundays, or to relieve the needy any day of the week.' 

* Ha, ha, ha ! ' said the man in the chimney-corner, 
who, in spite of the taciturnity induced by the pipe of 
tobacco, could not or would not refrain from this slight 
testimony to his comrade's humour. 

Now the old mead of those days, brewed of the 
purest first-year or maiden honey, four pounds to the 
gallon — with its due complement of white of eggs, 
cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, rosemary, yeast, and 
processes of working, bottling, and cellaring — tasted re- 
markably strong ; but it did not taste so strong as it 
actually was. Hence, presently, the stranger in cinder- 
gray at the table, moved by its creeping influence, un- 
buttoned his waistcoat, threw himself back in his chair, 
spread his legs, and made his presence felt in various 
ways. 

4a 



THE THREE STRANGERS 

*Well, well, as I say,* he resumed, 'I am going to 
Casterbridge, and to Casterbridge I must go. I should 
have been almost there by this time ; but the rain drove 
me into your dwelling, and I'm not sorry for it.' 

* You don't live in Casterbridge ? ' said the shepherd. 

* Not as yet ; though I shortly mean to move there.' 

* Going to set up in trade, perhaps ? * 

' No, no,' said the shepherd's wife. ' It is easy to 
see that the gentleman is rich, and don't want to work 
at anything.' 

The cinder-gray stranger paused, as if to consider 
whether he would accept that definition of himself. He 
presently rejected it by answering, • Rich is not quite 
the word for me, dame. I do work, and I must work. 
And even if I only get to Casterbridge by midnight I 
must begin work there at eight to-morrow morning. 
Yes, het or wet, blow or snow, famine or sword, my 
day's work to-morrow must be done.' 

* Poor man ! Then, in spite o' seeming, you be 
worse off than we ? ' replied the shepherd's wife. 

"Tis the nature of my trade, men and maidens. 
'Tis the nature of my trade more than my poverty. . . . 
But really and truly I must up and off, or I shan't get 
a lodging in the town.' However, the speaker did not 
move, and directly added, 'There's time for one more 
draught of friendship before I go ; and I'd perform it 
at once if the mug were not dry.' 

' Here's a mug o' small,' said Mrs. Fennel. * Small, 
we call it, though to be sure 'tis only the first wash o' 
the combs.' 

' No,' said the stranger disdainfully. * I won't spoil 
your first kindness by partaking o' your second.* 

* Certainly not,' broke in Fennel. * We don't in- 
crease and multiply every day, and I'll fill the mug 
again.* He went away to the dark place under the 
stairs where the barrel stood. The shepherdess followed 
him. 

47 



WESSEX TALES 

* Why should you do this ? ' she said reproachfully, 
as soon as they were alone. * He's emptied it once, 
though it held enough for ten people; and now he's 
not contented wi' the small, but must needs call for 
more o' the strong 1 And a stranger unbeknown to 
any of us. For my part, I don't like the look o' the 
man at all.* 

' But he's in the house, my honey ; and 'tis a wet 
night, and a christening. Daze it, what's a cup of 
mead more or less ? There'll be plenty more next bee- 
burning.' 

' Very well — this time, then,' she answered, looking 
wistfully at the barrel. ' But what is the man's calling, 
and where is he one of, that he should come in and 
join us like this ? ' 

' I don't know. I'll ask him again.* 

The catastrophe of having the mug drained dry at 
one pull by the stranger in cinder-gray was effectually 
guarded against this time by Mrs. Fennel. She poured 
out his allowance in a small cup, keeping the large one 
at a discreet distance from him. When he had tossed 
off his portion the shepherd renewed his inquiry about 
the stranger's occupation. 

The latter did not immediately reply, and the man 
in the chimney-corner, with sudden demonstrativeness, 
said, * Anybody may know my trade — I'm a wheel- 
wright.* 

*A very good trade for these parts,' said the 
shepherd. 

' And anybody may know mine — if they've the sense 
to find it out,' said the stranger in cinder-gray. 

'You may generally tell what a man is by his 
claws,' observed the hedge-carpenter, looking at his 
own hands. ' My fingers be as full of thorns as an 
old pin-cushion is of pins.' 

The hands of the man in the chimney-corner in- 
stinctively sought the shade, and he gazed into the fire 

48 



!_; THE THREE ^STRANGERS 

as he resumed his pipe. The man at the table took 
up the hedge-carpenter's remark, and added smartly, 
' True ; but the oddity of my trade is that, instead of 
setting a mark upon me, it sets a mark upon my 
customers.' 

No observation being offered by anybody in eluci- 
dation of this enigma, the shepherd's wife once more 
called for a song. The same obstacles presented 
themselves as at the former time — one had no voice, 
another had forgotten the first verse. The stranger 
at the table, whose soul had now risen to a good 
working temperature, relieved the difficulty by exclaim- 
ing that, to start the company, he would sing himself. 
Thrusting one thumb into the arm-hole of his waistcoat, 
he waved the other hand in the air, and, with an ex- 
temporizing gaze at the shining sheep-crooks above the 
mantelpiece, began : — 

* O my trade it is the rarest one, 

Simple shepherds all — 
My trade is a sight to see ; 
For my customers I tie, and take them up on high. 
And waft 'em to a far countree 1 ' 

The room was silent when he had finished the verse — 
with one exception, that of the man in the chimney- 
corner, who, at the singer's word, ' Chorus 1 ' joined him 
in a deep bass voice of musical relish — 

' And waft *em to a far countree ! ' 

Oliver Giles, John Pitcher the dairyman, the parish- 
clerk, the engaged man of fifty, the row of young 
women against the wall, seemed lost in thought not of 
the gayest kind. The shepherd looked meditatively on 
the ground, the shepherdess gazed keenly at the singer, 
and with some suspicion ; she was doubting whether 
this stranger were merely singing an old song from 
recollection, or was composing one there and then for 

49 D 



WESSEX TALES 

the occasion. All were as perplexed at the obscure 
revelation as the guests at Belshazzar's Feast, except the 
man in the chimney-corner, who quietly said, ' Second 
verse, stranger,' and smoked on. 

The singer thoroughly moistened himself from his 
lips inwards, and went on with the next stanza as re- 
quested : — 

• My tools are but common ones. 

Simple shepherds all— 
My tools are no sight to see : 
A little hempen string, and a post whereon to swing, 
Are implements enough for me 1 ' 

Shepherd Fennel glanced round. There was no longer 
any doubt that the stranger was answering his question 
rhythmically. The guests one and all started back with 
suppressed exclamations. The young woman engaged 
to the man of fifty fainted half-way, and would have pro- 
ceeded, but finding him wanting in alacrity for catching 
her she sat down trembling. 

' O, he's the ! ' whispered the people in the 

background, mentioning the name of an ominous public 
officer. ' He's come to do it ! 'Tis to be at Caster- 
bridge jail to-morrow — the man for sheep-stealing — 
the poor clock-maker we heard of, who used to live 
away at Shottsford and had no work to do — Timothy 
Summers, whose family were a-starving, and so he went 
out of Shottsford by the high-road, and took a sheep 
in open daylight, defying the farmer and the farmer's 
wife and the farmer's lad, and every man jack among 
'em. He' (and they nodded towards the stranger of 
the deadly trade) ' is come from up the country to do 
it because there's not enough to do in his own county- 
town, and he's got the place here now our own county 
man's dead; he's going to live in the same cottage 
under the prison wall.' 

The stranger in cinder-gray took no notice of this 

50 



C-^ 



THE THREE STRANGERS 



whispered string of observations, but again wetted his 
lips. Seeing that his friend in the chimney-corner was 
the only one who reciprocated his joviality in any way, 
he held out his cup towards that appreciative comrade, 
who also held out his own. They clinked together, the 
eyes of the rest of the room hanging upon the singer's 
actions. He parted his lips for the third verse ; but at 
that moment another knock was audible upon the door. 
This time the knock was faint and hesitating. 

The company seemed scared; the shepherd looked 
with consternation towards the entrance, and it was 
with some effort that he resisted his alarmed wife's 
deprecatory glance, and uttered for the third time the 
welcoming words, * Walk in ! ' 

The door was gently opened, and another man stood 
upon the mat. He, like those who had preceded him, 
was a stranger. This time it was a short, small per- 
sonage, of fail- complexion, and dressed in a decent suit 
of dark clothes. 

' Can you tell me the way to ? ' he began : when, 

gazing round the room to observe the nature of the 
company amongst whom he had fallen, his eyes 
lighted on the stranger in cinder-gray. It was just at 
the instant when the latter, who had thrown his mind 
into his song with such a will that he scarcely heeded 
the interruption, silenced all whispers and inquiries by 
bursting into his third verse : — 

• To-morrow is my working day, 

Simple shepherds all — 
To-morrow is a working day for me : 
For the farmer's sheep is slain, and the lad who did it ta'en, 
A nd on his soul may God ha' merc-y I ' 

The stranger in the chimney-corner, waving cups with 
the singer so heartily that his mead splashed over on the 
hearth, repeated in his bass voice as before : — 

'And on his soul may God ha' merc-y I * 
51 



WEBSEX TALES 

All this time the third stranger had beer standing 
in the doorway. Finding now that he did not come 
forward or go on speaking, the guests particularly re- 
garded loim. They noticed to their surprise that he 
stood before them the picture of abject terror — his knees 
trembling, his hand shaking so violently that the door- 
latch by which he supported himself rattled audibly : his 
white lips were parted, and his eyes fixed on the merry 
officer of justice in the middle of the room. A moment 
more and he had turned, closed the door, and fled. 

' What a man can it be ? ' said the shepherd. 

The rest, between the awfulness of their late dis- 
covery and the odd conduct of this third visitor, looked 
as if they knew not what to think, and said nothing. 
Instinctively they withdrew further and further from the 
grim gentleman in their midst, whom some of them 
seemed to take for the Prince of Darkness himself, till 
they formed a remote circle, an empty space of floor 
being left between them and him — 

' . . . circulus, cujus centrum diabolus.' 

The room was so silent — though there were more 
than twenty people in it — that nothing could be heard 
but the patter of the rain against the window-shutters, 
accompanied by the occasional hiss of a stray drop that 
fell down the chimney into the fire, and the steady 
puffing of the man in the corner, who had now resumed 
his pipe of long clay. 

The stillness was unexpectedly broken. The distant 
sound of a gun reverberated through the air — apparently 
from the direction of the county-town. 

* Be jiggered ! ' cried the stranger who had sung the 
song, jumping up. 

' \Vhat does that mean ? ' asked several 

* A prisoner escaped from the jail — that's what it 
means.' 



, ' THE THREE STRANGERS 

All listened. The sound was repeated, and none 
of them spoke but the man in the chimney-corner, who 
said quietly, 'I've often been told that in this county 
they fire a gun at such times; but I never heard it 
till now.' 

* I wonder if it is my man ? ' murmured the personage 
in cinder-gray. 

' Surely it is ! ' said the shepherd involuntarily. ' And 
surely we've zeed him ! That little man who looked 
in at the door by now, and quivered like a leaf when he 
zeed ye and heard your song ! ' 

'His teeth chattered, and the breath went out of 
his body,' said the dairyman. 

'And his heart seemed to sink within him like a 
stone,' said Oliver Giles. 

'And he bolted as if he'd been shot at,' said the 
hedge-carpenter. 

' True — his teeth chattered, and his heart seemed to 
sink ; and he bolted as if he'd been shot at,' slowly 
summed up the man in the chimney-corner. 

' I didn't notice it,' remarked the hangman. 

' We were all a-wondering what made him run off in 
such a fright,' faltered one of the women against the 
wall, ' and now 'tis explained ! ' 

The firing of the alarm-gun went on at intervals, low 
and sullenly, and their suspicions became a certainty. 
The sinister gentleman in cinder-gray roused himself. 

♦ Is there a constable here ? ' he asked, in thick tones. 

• If so, let him step forward.' 

The engaged man of fifty stepped quavering out from 
the wall, his betrothed beginning to sob on the back of 
the chair. 

' You are a sworn constable ? * 

' I be, sir.' 

'Then pursue the criminal at once, with assistance, 
and bring him back here. He can't have gone far.' 

'I will, sir, I will — when I've got my suff. I'll 

53 



WE3SEX TALES 

go home and get it, and come sharp here, and start in 
a body.' 

'Staff! — never mind your staff; the man'll be 
gone ! ' 

' But I can't do nothing without my staff — can I, 
William, and John, and Charles Jake ? No ; for there's 
the king's royal crown a painted on en in yaller and 
gold, and the lion and the unicorn, so as when I raise 
en up and hit my prisoner, 'tis made a lawful blow 
thereby. I wouldn't 'tempt to take up a man without 
my staff — no, not I. If I hadn't the law to gie me 
courage, why, instead o' my taking up him he might 
take up me ! ' 

' Now, I'm a king's man myself, and can give you 
authority enough for this,' said the formidable officer 
in gray. ' Now then, all of ye, be ready. Have ye 
any lanterns ? ' 

' Yes — have ye any lanterns ? — I demand it ! ' said 
the constable. 

' And the rest of you able-bodied * 

' Able-bodied men — yes — the rest of ye ! ' said the 
constable. 

' Have you some good stout staves and pitch- 
forks ' 

•Staves and pitchforks — in the name o* the law! 
And take 'em in yer hands and go in quest, and do as 
we in authority tell ye I ' 

Thus aroused, the men prepared to give chase. The 
evidence was, indeed, though circumstantial, so con- 
vincing, that but little argument was needed to show 
the shepherd's guests that after what they had seen it 
would look very much like connivance if they did not 
instantly pursue the unhappy third stranger, who could 
not as yet have gone more than a few hundred yards 
over such uneven country. 

A shepherd is always well provided with lanterns ; 
and, lighting these hastily, and with hurdle-staves in 

54 



S_T THE THREE STRANGERS 

their hands, they poured out of the door, taking a 
direction along the crest of the hill, away from the 
town, the rain having fortunately a little abated. 

Disturbed by the noise, or possibly by unpleasant 
dreams of her baptism, the child who had been 
christened began to cry heart-brokenly in the room 
overhead. These notes of grief came down through 
the chinks of the floor to the ears of the women below, 
who jumped up one by one, and seemed glad of the 
excuse to ascend and comfort the baby, for the incidents 
of the last half-hour greatly oppressed them. Thus in 
the space of two or three minutes the room on the 
ground-floor was deserted quite. 

But it was not for long. Hardly had the sound of 
footsteps died away when a man returned round the 
corner of the house from the direction the pursuers 
had taken. Peeping in at the door, and seeing nobody 
there, he entered leisurely. It was the stranger of the 
chimney-corner, who had gone out with the rest. The 
motive of his return was shown by his helping himself 
to a cut piece of skimmer-cake that lay on a ledge 
beside where he had sat, and which he had apparently 
forgotten to take with him. He also poured out half 
a cup more mead from the quantity that remained, 
ravenously eating and drinking these as he stood. He 
had not finished when another figure came in just as 
quietly — his friend in cinder-gray. 

« O — you here ? ' said the latter, smiling. * I 
thought you had gone to help in the capture.' And 
this speaker also revealed the object of his return by 
looking solicitously round for the fascinating mug of 
old mead. 

* And I thought you had gone,' said the other, con- 
tinuing his skimmer-cake with some effort. 

' Well, on second thoughts, I felt there were 
enough without me,' said the first confidentially, * and 
such a night as it is, too. Besides, 'tis the business 

* 55 



WESSEX TALES 

o' the Government to take care of its criminals — not 
mine.' 

♦True; so it is. And I felt as you did, that there 
were enough without me.' 

' I don't want to break my limbs running over the 
humps and hollows of this wild country.' 

' Nor I neither, between you and me.' 

♦These shepherd-people are used to it — simple- 
minded souls, you know, stirred up to anything in a 
moment. They'll have him ready for me before the 
morning, and no trouble to me at all.'' 

* They'll have him, and we shall have saved ourselves 
all labour in the matter.* 

' True, true. Well, my way is to Casterbridge ; and 
'tis as much as my legs will do to take me that far. 
Going the same way ? ' 

' No, I am sorry to say ! I have to get home over 
there ' (he nodded indefinitely to the right), ' and I feel 
SC5 you do, that it is quite enough for my legs to do 
Defore bedtime.' 

The other had by this time finished the mead in 
the mug, after which, shaking hands heartily at the 
door, and wishing each other well, they went their 
several ways. 

In the meantime the company of pursuers had 
reached the end of the hog's-back elevation which 
dominated this part of the down. They had decided 
on no particular plan of action ; and, finding that the 
man of the baleful trade was no longer in their company, 
they seemed quite unable to form any such plan now. 
They descended in all directions down the hill, and 
straightway several of the party fell into the snare set 
by Nature for all misguided midnight ramblers over 
this part of the cretaceous formation. The ' lanchets,' 
or flint slopes, which belted the escarpment at intervals 
of a dozen yards, took the less cautious ones unawares, 
and losing their footing on the rubbly steep they slid 

.56 



THE THREE STRANGERS 

sharply downwards, the lanterns rolling from theii 
hands to the bottom, and there lying on their sides till 
the horn was scorched through. 

When they had again gathered themselves together, 
the shepherd, as the man who knew the country best, 
took the lead, and guided them round these treacherous 
inclines. The lanterns, which seemed rather to dazzle 
their eyes and warn the fugitive than to assist them 
in the exploration, Vv'ere extinguished, due silence was 
observed ; and in this more rational order they plunged 
into the vale. It was a grassy, briery, moist defile, 
affording some shelter to any person who had sought 
it ; but the party perambulated it in vain, and ascended 
on the other side. Here they wandered apart, and after 
an interval closed together again to report progress. 
At the second time of closing in they found themselves 
near a lonely ash, the single tree on this part of the 
coomb, probably sown there by a passing bird some 
fifty years before. And here, standing a little to one 
side of the trunk, as motionless as the trunk itself, 
appeared the man they were in quest of, his outline 
being well defined against the sky beyond. The band 
noiselessly drew up and faced him. 

' Your money or your life ! ' said the constable sternly 
to the still figure. 

' No, no,' whispered John Pitcher. ' 'Tisn't our side 
ought to say that. That's the doctrine of vagabonds 
like him, and we be on the side of the law.' 

' Well, well,' replied the constable impatiently ; ' I 
must say something, mustn't I ? and if you had all the 
weight o' this undertaking upon your mind, perhaps 
you'd say the wrong thing too ! — Prisoner at the bar, 
surrender, in the name of the Father — the Crown, I 
mane ! ' 

The man under the tree seemed now to notice them 
for the first time, and, giving them no opportunity 
whatever for exhibiting their coiu^ge, he strolled slowly 

57 



WESSEX TALES 

towards them. He was, indeed, the little man, the 
ihird stranger; but his trepidation had in a great 
measure gone. 

' Well, travellers,* he said, did I hear ye speak to 
me?' 

* You did : you've got to come and be our prisoner 
at once ! ' said the constable. ' We arrest 'ee on the 
charge of not biding in Casterbridge jail in a decent 
proper manner to be hung to-morrow morning. Neigh- 
bours, do your duty, and seize the culpet ! ' 

On hearing the charge, the man seemed enlightened, 
and, saying not another word, resigned himself with 
preternatural civility to the search-party, who, with their 
staves in their hands, surrounded him on all sides, and 
marched him back towards the shepherd's cottage. 

It was eleven o'clock by the time they arrived. The 
light shining from the open door, a sound of men's 
voices within, proclaimed to them as they approached 
the house that some new events had arisen in thciir 
absence. On entering they discovered the shepherd's 
living room to be invaded by two officers from Caster- 
bridge jail, and a well-known magistrate who lived at 
the nearest country-seat, intelligence of the escape having 
become generally circulated. 

'Gentlemen,' said the constable, 'I have brought 
back your man — not without risk and danger ; but 
every one must do his duty ! He is inside this circle 
of able-bodied persons, who have lent me useful aid, 
considering their ignorance of Crown work. Men, bring 
forward your prisoner 1 ' And the third stranger was 
led to the light. 

* Who is this ? ' said one of the officials. 
' The man,' said the constable. 

•Certainly not,' said the turnkey; and the first 
corroborated his statement. 

' But how can it be otherwise ? ' asked the constable. 
•Or why was he so terrified at sight o' the singing 

58 



i-,' THE THREE STRANGERS 

instrument of the law who sat there ? ' Here he re- 
lated the strange behaviour of the third stranger on 
entering the house during the hangman's song, 

' Can't understand it,' said the officer coolly. ' All 
I know is that it is not the condemned man. He's 
quite a different character from this one; a gauntish 
fellow, with dark hair and eyes, rather good-looking, 
and with a musical bass voice that if you heard it once 
you'd never mistake as long as you lived.' 

' Why, souls — 'twas the man in the chimney-corner ! ' 

' Hey — what ? * said the magistrate, coming forward 
after inquiring particulars from the shepherd in the 
background. ' Haven't you got the man after all ? ' 

' Well, sir,' said the constable, * he's the man we 
were in search of, that's true; and yet he's not the 
man we were in search of. For the man we were in 
search of was not the man we wanted, sir, if you 
understand my everyday way ; for 'twas the man in the 
chimney-corner ! ' 

' A pretty kettle of fish altogether ! ' said the 
magistrate. ' You had better start for the other man 
at once.* 

The prisoner now spoke for the first time. The 
mention of the man in the chimney-corner seemed to 
have moved him as nothing else could do. ' Sir,' he 
said, stepping forward to the magistrate, ' take no more 
trouble about me. The time is come when I may as 
well speak. I have done nothing; my crime is that 
the condemned man is my brother. Early this after- 
noon I left home at Shottsford to tramp it all the way 
to Casterbridge jail to bid him farewell. I was be- 
nighted, and called here to rest and ask the way. 
When I opened the door I saw before me the very 
man, my brother, that I thought to see in the con- 
demned cell at Casterbridge. He was in this chimney- 
corner; and jammed close to him, so that he could 
not have got out if he had tried, was the executioner 

59 



WESSEX TALES 

who'd come to take his Ufe, singing a song about it and 
not knowing that it was his victim who was close by, 
joining in to save appearances. My brother looked a 
glance of agony at me, and I knew he meant, " Don't 
reveal what you see; my life depends on it." I was 
so terror-struck that I could hardly stand, and, not 
knowing what I did, I turned and hurried away.* 

The narrator's manner and tone had the stamp of 
truth, and his story made a great impression on all 
around. * And do you know where your brother is at 
the present time ? ' asked the magistrate. 

' I do not. I have never seen him since I closed 
this door.' 

' I can testify to that, for we've been between ye 
ever since,' said the constable. 

* Where does he think to fly to ? — what is his 
occupation ? ' 

' He's a watch-and-clock-maker, sir.' 

"A said 'a was a wheelwright — a wicked rogue,' 
said the constable. 

' The wheels of clocks and watches he meant, no 
doubt,' said Shepherd Fennel. * I thought his hands 
were palish for's trade.' 

' Well, it appears to me that nothing can be gained 
by retaining this poor man in custody,' said the magis- 
trate; 'your business lies with the other, unquestion- 
ably.' 

And so the little man was released off-hand ; but he 
looked nothing the less sad on that account, it being 
beyond the power of magistrate or constable to raze out 
the written troubles in his brain, for they concerned 
another whom he regarded with more solicitude than 
himself. When this was done, and the man had gone 
his way, the night was found to be so far advanced that 
it was deemed useless to renew the search before the 
next morning. 

Next day, accordingly, the quest for the clever sheep- 

. 60 



THE THREE STRANGERS 

stealer became general and keen, to all appearance at 
least. But the intended punishment was cruelly dis- 
proportioned to the transgression, and the sympathy of 
a great many country-folk in that district was strongly 
on the side of the fugitive. Moreover, his marvellous 
coolness and daring in hob-and-nobbing with the hang- 
man, under the unprecedented circumstances of the 
shepherd's party, won their admiration. So that it may 
be questioned if all those who ostensibly made them- 
selves so busy in exploring woods and fields and lanes 
were quite so thorough when it came to the private 
examination of their own lofts and outhouses. Stories 
were afloat of a mysterious figure being occasionally 
seen in some old overgrown trackway or other, remote 
from turnpike roads ; but when a search was instituted 
in any of these suspected quarters nobody was found. 
Thus the days and weeks passed without tidings. 

In brief, the bass-voiced man of the chimney-corner 
was never recaptured. Some said that he went across 
the sea, others that he did not, but buried himself in the 
depths of a populous city. At any rate, the gentleman 
in cinder-gray never did his morning's work at Caster- 
bridge, nor met anywhere at all, for business purposes, 
the genial comrade with whom he had passed an hour 
of relaxation in the lonely house on the coomb. 

The grass has long been green on the graves of 
Shepherd Fennel and his frugal wife; the guests who 
made up the christening party have mainly followed their 
entertainers to the tomb; the baby in whose honour they 
all had met is a matron in the sere and yellow leaf. But 
the arrival of the three strangers at the shepherd's that 
night, and the details connected therewith, is a story 
as well known as ever in the country about Higher 
Crowstairs. 

March 1S83. 

61 



THE WITHERED ARM 



A LORN MILKMAID 



It was an eighty-cow dairy, and the troop of milkers, 
regular and supernumerary, were all at work ; for, 
though the time of year was as yet but early April, 
the feed lay entirely in water-meadows, and the cows 
were 'in full pail.' The hour was about six in the 
evening, and three-fourths of the large, red, rectangular 
animals having been finished off, there was opportunity 
for a little conversation. 

' He do bring home his bride to-morrow, I hear. 
They've come as far as Anglebury to-day.' 

The voice seemed to proceed from the belly of the 
cow called Cherry, but the speaker was a milking- woman, 
whose face was buried in the flank of that motionless 
beast. 

' Hav* anybody seen her ? ' said another. 

There was a negative response from the first. 
* Though they say she's a rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little 
body enough,' she added ; and as the milkmaid spoke 
she turned her face so that she could glance past her 
cow's tail to the other side of the barton, where a thin, 
fading woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from 
the rest 



WESSEX TALES 

'Years younger than he, they say,' continued thw 
second, with also a glance of reflectiveness in the same 
direction. 

* How old do you call him, then ? ' 
' Thirty or so.' 

• More like forty,' broke in an old milkman near, in 
a long white pinafore or * wropper,' and with the brim 
of his hat tied down, so that he looked like a woman. 
* 'A was born before our Great Weir was builded, and 
I hadn't man's wages when I laved water there.' 

The discussion waxed so warm that the purr of the 
milk-streams became jerky, till a voice from another 
cow's belly cried with authority, * Now then, what the 
Turk do it matter to us about Farmer Lodge's age, or 
Farmer Lodge's new mis'ess? I shall have to pay 
him nine pound a year for the rent of every one of 
these milchers, whatever his age or hers. Get on with 
your work, or 'twill be dark afore we have done. The 
evening is pinking in a'ready.' This speaker was the 
dairyman himself, by whom the milkmaids and men 
were employed. 

Nothing more was said publicly about Farmer Lodge's 
wedding, but the first woman murmured under her cow 
to her next neighbour, * 'Tis hard for she^ signifying the 
thin worn milkmaid aforesaid. 

' O no,' said the second. ' He ha'n't spoke to 
Rhoda Brook for years.' 

When the milking was done they washed their pails 
and hung them on a many-forked stand made of the 
peeled limb of an oak-tree, set upright in the earth, and 
resembling a colossal antlered horn. The majority then 
dispersed in various directions homeward. The thin 
woman who had not spoken was joined by a boy of 
twelve or thereabout, and the twain went away up the 
field also. 

Their course lay apart from that of the others, to a 
lonely spot high above the water-meads, and not far 

66 



ij;. THE WITHERED ARM 

from the border of Egdon Heath, whose dark counte- 
nance was visible in the distance as they drew nigh to 
their home. 

' They've just been saying down in barton that your 
father brings his young wife home from Anglebury to- 
morrow,' the woman observed. 'I shall want to send 
you for a few things to market, and you'll be pretty 
sure to meet 'em.' 

• Yes, mother,' said the boy. ' Is father married 
then ? ' 

' Yes. , . . You can give her a look, and tell me 
what's she's like, if you do see her.' 

' Yes, mother.' 

'If she's dark or fair, and if she's tall — as tall as I. 
And if she seems like a woman who has ever worked 
for a living, or one that has been always well off, and 
has never done anything, and shows marks of the lady 
on her, as I expect she do.' 

'Yes.' 

They crept up the hill in the twilight, and entered 
the cottage. It was built of mud-walls, the surface of 
which had been washed by many rains into channels and 
depressions that left none of the original flat face visible ; 
while here and there ii) the thatch above a rafter 
showed like a bone portruding through the skin. ■^' 

She was kneeling down in the chimney-corner, before 
two pieces of turf laid together with the heather inwards, 
blowing at the red-hot ashes with her breath till the 
turves flamed. The radiance lit her pale cheek, and 
made her dark eyes, that had once been handsome, 
seem handsome anew. ' Yes,' she resumed, ' see if she 
is dark or fair, and if you can, notice if her hands be 
white ; if not, see if they look as though she had ever 
done housework, or are milker's hands like mine.' 

The boy again promised, inattentively this time, his 
mother not observing that he was cutting a notch with 
his pocket-knife in the beech-backed chair. 

67 



THE YOUNG WIFE 

II 

1 HE road from Anglebury to Holmstoke is in general 
level; but there is one place where a sharp ascent 
breaks its monotony. Farmers homeward-bound from 
the former market-town, who trot all the rest of the 
way, walk their horses up this short incline. 

The next evening, while the sun was yet bright, a 
handsome new gig, with a lemon-coloured body and 
red wheels, was spinning westward along the level 
highway at the heels of a powerful mare. The driver 
was a yeoman in the prime of life, cleanly shaven like 
an actor, his face being toned to that bluish-vermilion 
hue which so often graces a tliriving farmer's features 
when returning home after successful dealings in the 
town. Beside him sat a woman, many years his junior 
— almost, indeed, a girl. Her face too was fresh in 
colour, but it was of a totally different quality — soft and 
evanescent, like the light under a heap of rose-petals. 

Few people travelled this way, for it was not a 
main road ; and the long white riband of gravel that 
stretched before them was empty, save of one small 
scarce-moving speck, which presently resolved itself 
ipto the figure of a boy, who was creeping on at a 

68 



^_: THE WITHERED ARM 

snail's pace, and continually looking behind him — the 
heavy bundle he carried being some excuse for, if not 
the reason of, his dilatoriness. When the bouncing 
gig-party slowed at the bottom of the incline above 
mentioned, the pedestrian was only a few yards in 
front. Supporting the large bundle by putting one 
hand on his hip, he turned and looked straight at the 
farmer's wife as though he would read her through and 
through, pacing along abreast of the horse. 

The low sun was full in her face, rendering every 
feature, shade, and contour distinct, from the curve of 
her httle nostril to the colour of her eyes. The farmer, 
though he seemed annoyed at the boy's persistent pre- 
sence, did not order him to get out of the way ; and thus 
the lad preceded them, his hard gaze never leaving her, 
till they reached the top of the ascent, when the fanner 
trotted on with relief in his lineaments— having taken 
no outward notice of the boy whatever. 

' How that poor lad stared at me ! ' said the young 
wife. 

• Yes, dear ; I saw that he did.' 

' He is one of the village, I suppose ? ' 

* One of the neighbourhood. I think he lives with 
his mother a mile or two off.' 

' He knows who we are, no doubt ? ' 

' O yes. You must expect to be stared at just at 
first, my pretty Gertrude.' 

' I do, — though I think the poor boy may have 
looked at us in the hope we might relieve him of his 
heavy load, rather than from curiosity.' 

' O no,' said her husband off-handedly. * These 
country lads will carry a hundredweight once they get 
it on their backs ; besides his pack had more size than 
weight in it. Now, then, another mile and I shall be 
able to show you our house in the distance — if it is 
not too dark before we get there.' The wheels spun 
round, and particles flew from their periphery as before, 

69 



WESSEX TALES 

till a white house of ample dimensions revealed itself, 
with farm-buildings and ricks at the back. 

Meanwhile the boy had quickened his pace, and 
turning up a by-lane some mile and half short of the 
white farmstead, ascended towards the leaner pastures, 
and so on to the cottage of his mother. 

She had reached home after her day's milking at the 
outlying dairy, and was washing cabbage at the doarway 
in the declining light. * Hold up the net a moment,' 
she said, without preface, as the boy came up. 

He flung down his bundle, held the edge of the 
cabbage-net, and as she filled its meshes with the 
dripping leaves she went on, * Well, did you see her ? ' 

* Yes ; quite plain.' 

* Is she ladylike ? ' 

* Yes ; and more. A lady complete.* 
' Is she young ? ' 

•Well, she's growed up, and her ways be quite a 
woman's.' 

* Of course. What colour is her hair and face ? ' 

' Her hair is lightish, and her face as comely as a 

live doll's.' 

' Her eyes, then, are not dark like mine ? ' 

' No — of a bluish turn, and her mouth is very nice 

and red ; and when she smiles, her teeth show white.' 

* Is she tall ? ' said the woman sharply. 

' I couldn't see. She was sitting down.' 

* Then do you go to Holmstoke church to-morrow 
morning : she's sure to be there. Go early and notice 
her walking in, and come home and tell me if she's 
taller than I.' 

' Very well, mother. But why don't you go and see 
for yourself? ' 

'/go to see her! I wouldn't look up at her if she 
were to pass my window this instant. She was v/ith 
Mr. Lodge, of course. What did he say or do ? ' 

' Just the same as usual.* 

70 



THE WITHERED ARM 

* Took no notice of you ? ' 

* None.' 

Next day the mother put a clean shirt on the boy, 
and started him off for Holmstoke church. He reachai 
the ancient httle pile when the door was just being 
opened, and he was the first to enter. Taking his seat 
by the font, he watched all the parishioners file in. The 
well-to-do Farmer Lodge came nearly last ; and his 
young wife, who accompanied him, walked up the aisle 
with the shyness natural to a modest woman who had 
appeared thus for the first time. As all other eyes were 
fixed upon her, the youth's stare was not noticed now. 

When he reached home his mother said, ' Well ? ' 
before he had entered the room. 

* She is not tall. She is rather short,' he replied. 

* Ah ! ' said his mother, with satisfaction. 

♦But she's very pretty — very. In fact, she's lovely.' 
The youthful freshness of the yeoman's wife had evi- 
dently made an impression even on the somewhat hard 
nature of the boy. 

'That's all I want to hear,' said his mother quickly. 
' Now, spread the table-cloth. The hare you caught is 
very tender ; but mind that nobody catches you. — You've 
never told me what sort of hands she had.' 

* I have never seen 'em. She never took off her 
gloves.' 

' WTiat did she wear this morning ? ' 

* A white bonnet and a silver-coloured gownd. It 
whewed and whistled so loud when it rubbed against 
the pews that the lady coloured up more than ever for 
very shame at the noise, and pulled it in to keep it from 
touching ; but when she pushed into her seat, it whewed 
more than ever. Mr. Lodge, he seemed pleased, and 
his waistcoat stuck out, and his great golden seals hung 
like a lord's ; but she seemed to wish her noisy gownd 
anjnfphere but on her.' 

* Not she 1 However, that wUl do now,* 
r 71 



WESSEX TALES 

These descriptions of the newly-married couple were 
continued from time to time by the boy at his mother's 
request, after any chance encounter he had had with 
them. But Rhoda Brook, though she might easily have 
seen young Mrs. Lodge for herself by walking a couple 
of miles, would never attempt an excursion towards the 
quarter where the farmhouse lay. Neither did she, at 
the daily milking in the dairyman's yard on Lodge's 
outlying second farm, ever speak on the subject of the 
recent marriage. The dairyman, who rented the cows 
of Lodge, and knew perfectly the tall milkmaid's history, 
with manly kindliness always kept the gossip in the 
cow-barton from annoying Rhoda. But the atmosphere 
thereabout was full of the subject during the first days 
of Mrs. Lodge's arrival; and from her boy's description 
and the casual words of the other milkers, Rhoda Brook 
could raise a mental image of the unconscious Mrs. 
Lodge that was realistic as a photograph. 



A VISION 

III 

One night, two or three weeks after the bridal return, 
when the boy was gone to bed, Rhoda sat a long time 
over the turf ashes that she had raked out in front of 
her to extinguish them. She contemplated so intently 
the new wife, as presented to her in her mind's eye over 
the embers, that she forgot the lapse of time. At last, 
wearied with her day's work, she too retired. 

But the figure which had occupied her so much 
during this and the previous days was not to be banished 
at night. For the first time Gertrude Lodge visited 
the supplanted woman in her dreams. Rhoda Brook 
dreamed — since her assertion that she really saw, before 
falling asleep, was not to be believed — that the young 
wife, in the pale silk dress and white bonnet, but with 
features shockingly distorted, and wrinkled as by age, 
was sitting upon her chest as she lay. The pressure of 
Mrs. Lodge's person grew heavier ; the blue eyes peered 
cruelly into her face ; and then the figure thrust forward 
its left hand mockingly, so as to make the wedding, 
ring it wore glitter in Rhoda's eyes. Maddened men- 
tally, and nearly suffocated by pressure, the sleeper 
struggled; the incubus, still regarding her, withdrew to 

73 



WESSEX TALES 

the foot of the bed, only, however, to come forward by 
degrees, resume her seat, and flash her left hand as 
before. 

Gasping for breath, Rhoda, in a last desperate effort, 
swung out her right hand, seized the confronting 
spectre by its obtrusive left arm, and whirled it back- 
ward to the floor, starting up herself as she did so with 
a low cry. 

' O, merciful heaven ! ' she cried, sitting on the edge 
of the bed in a cold sweat; 'that was not a dream — 
she was here ! ' 

She could feel her antagonist's arm within her grasp 
even now — the very flesh and bone of it, as it seemed. 
She looked on the floor whither she had whirled the 
spectre, but there was nothing to be seen. 

Rhoda Brook slept no more that night, and when 
she went milking at the next dawn they noticed how 
pale and haggard she looked. The milk that she drew 
quivered into the pail ; her hand had not calmed even 
yet, and still retained the feel of the arm. She came 
home to breakfast as wearily as if it had been supper- 
time. 

' What was that noise in your chimmer, mother, last 
night ? ' said her son. * You fell off the bed, surely ? ' 

' Did you hear anything fall ? At what time ? ' 

' Just when the clock struck two.' 

She could not explain, and when the meal was done 
went silently about her household work, the boy assist- 
ing her, fcr he hated going afield on the farms, and she 
indulged his reluctance. Between eleven and twelve 
the garden-gate clicked, and she lifted her eyes to the 
window. At the bottom of the garden, within the. 
gate, stood the woman of her vision. Rhoda seemed 
transfixed. 

* Ah, she said she would come ! ' exclaimed the boy, 
also observing her. 

* Said so — when ? How does she know us ? ' 

74 



y ' THE WITHERED ARM 

* I have seen and spoken to her. I talked to hei 
yesterday.' 

' I told you,' said the mother, flushing indignantly, 
' never to speak to anybody in that house, or go near 
the place.' 

' I did not speak to her till she spoke to me. And 
I did not go near the place. I met her in the road.' 

♦ What did you tell her ? ' 

•Nothing. She said, "Are you the poor boy who 
had to bring the heavy load from market ? " And she 
looked at my boots, and said they would not keep my 
feet dry if it came on wet, because they were so cracked. 
I told her I lived with my mother, and we had enough 
to do to keep ourselves, and that's how it was ; and she 
said then, " I'll come and bring you some better boots, 
and see your mother." She gives away things to other 
folks in the meads besides us.' 

Mrs. Lodge was by this time close to the door — not 
in her silk, as Rhoda had seen her in the bed-chamber, 
but in a morning hat, and gown of common light material, 
which became her better than silk. On her arm she 
carried a basket. 

The impression remaining from the night's experience 
was still strong. Brook had almost expected to see the 
wrinkles, the scorn, and the cruelty on her visitor's face. 
She would have escaped an interview, had escape been 
possible. There was, however, no backdoor to the 
cottage, and in an instant the boy had lifted the latch 
to Mrs. Lodge's gentle knock. 

'I see I have come to the right house,' said she, 
glancing at the lad, and smiling. ' But I was not sure 
till you opened the door.* 

The figure and action were those of the phantom ; 
but her voice was so indescribably sweet, her glance so 
winning, her smile so tender, so unlike that of Rhoda's 
midnight visitant, that the latter could hardly believe 
the evidence of her senses. She was truly glad that 

75 



V/ESSEX TALES 

she had not hidden away in sheer aversion, as she had 
been inclined to do. In her basket Mrs. Lodge brought 
the pair of boots that she had promised to the boy, and 
other useful articles. 

At these proofs of a kindly feeling towards her and 
hers Rhoda's heart reproached her bitterly. This inno 
cent young thing should have her blessing and not her 
curse. When she left them a light seemed gone from 
the dwelling. Two days later she came again to know 
if the boots fitted ; and less than a fortnight after that 
paid Rhoda another call. On this occasion the boy 
was absent. 

* I walk a good deal,' said Mrs. Lodge, ' and your 
house is the nearest outside our own parish. I hope 
you are well. You don't look quite well.' 

Rhoda said she was well enough; and, indeed, 
though the paler of the two, there was more of the 
strength that endures in her well-defined features and 
large frame, than in the soft-cheeked young woman be- 
fore her. The conversation became quite confidential 
as regarded their powers and weaknesses ; and when 
Mrs. Lodge was leaving, Rhoda said, ' I hope you will 
find this air agree with you, ma'am, and not suffer from 
the damp of the water-meads.' 

The younger one replied that there was not much 
doubt of it, her general health being usually good. 
' Though, now you remind me,' she added, ' I have 
one litttle ailment which puzzles me. It is nothing 
serious, but I cannot make it out.' 

She uncovered her left hand and arm; and their 
outline confronted Rhoda's gaze as the exact original 
of the limb she had beheld and seized in her dream. 
Upon the pink round surface of the arm were faint 
marks of an unhealthy colour, as if produced by a 
rough grasp. Rhoda's eyes became riveted on the dis- 
colorations ; she fancied that she discerned in them the 
shape of her own four fingers. 

76 



THE WITHERED ARM 

* How did it happen ? ' she said mechanically. 

' I cannot tell,' replied Mrs. Lodge, shaking her head. 
'One night when I was sound asleep, dreaming I was 
away in some strange place, a pain suddenly shot into 
my arm there, and was so keen as to awaken me. I 
must have struck it in the daytime, I suppose, though 
I don't remember doing so.' She added, laughing, ' I 
tell my dear husband that it looks just as if he had 
flown into a rage and struck me there. O, I daresay 
it will soon disappear.' 

' Ha, ha ! Yes. ... On what night did it come ? * 

Mrs. Lodge considered, and said it would be a 
fortnight ago on the morrow. * When I awoke I could 
not remember where I was,' she added, ' till the clock 
striking two reminded me.' 

She had named the night and the hour of Rhoda's 
spectral encounter, and Brook felt like a guilty thing. 
The artless disclosure startled her; she did not reason 
on the freaks of coincidence; and all the scenery of 
that ghastly night returned with double vividness to 
her mind. 

' O, can it be,' she said to herself, when her visitor 
had departed, * that I exercise a malignant power over 
people against my own will ? ' She knew that she had 
been slily called a witch since her fall; but never 
having understood why that particular stigma had been 
attached to her, it had passed disregarded. Could this 
be the explanation, and had such things as this ever 
happened before? 



A SUGGESTION 

IV 

The summer drew on, and Rhoda Brook almost 
dreaded to meet Mrs. Lodge again, notwithstanding 
that her feeling for the young wife amounted well- 
nigh to affection. Something in her own individuality 
seemed to convict Rhoda of crime. Yet a fatality 
sometimes would direct the steps of the latter to the 
outskirts of Holmstoke whenever she left her house 
for any other purpose than her daily work ; and hence 
it happened that their next encounter was out of doors. 
Rhoda could not avoid the subject which had so myst? 
fied her, and after the first few words she stammerea, 
• I hope your — arm is well again, ma'am ? ' She had 
perceived with consternation that Gertrude Lodge carried 
her left arm stiffly. 

* No ; it is not quite well. Indeed it is no better 
at all ; it is rather worse. It pains me dreadfully 
sometimes.* 

* Perhaps you had better go to a doctor, ma'am.' 
She replied that she had already seen a doctor. Her 

husband had insisted upon her going to one. But the 
surgeon had not seemed to understand the afflicted 
limb at all ; he had told her to bathe it in hot water, 

78 



i_- THE WITHERED ARM 

and she had bathed it, but the treatment had done no 
good. 

' Will you let me see it ? ' said the milkwoman. 

Mrs. Lodge pushed up her sleeve and disclosed the 
place, which was a few inches above the wrist. As 
soon as Rhoda Brook saw it, she could hardly preserve 
her composure. There was nothing of the nature of a 
wound, but the arm at that point had a shrivelled look, 
and the outline of the four fingers appeared more dis- 
tinct than at the former time. Moreover, she fancied 
that they were imprinted in precisely the relative posi- 
tion of her clutch upon the arm in the trance ; the first 
finger towards Gertrude's wrist, and the fourth towards 
her elbow. 

What the impress resembled seemed to have struck 
Gertrude herself since their last meeting. ' It looks 
almost like finger-marks,' she said ; adding with a faint 
laugh, * my husband says it is as if some witch, or the 
devil himself, had taken hold of me there, and blasted 
the flesh.' 

Rhoda shivered. ' That's fancy,' she said hurriedly. 
* I wouldn't mind it, if I were you.' 

'I shouldn't so much mind it,* said the younger, 
with hesitation, * if — if I hadn't a notion that it makes 
my husband — dislike me — no, love me less. Men 
think so much of personal appearance.' 

* Some do — he for one.' 

* Yes ; and he was very proud of mine, at first.' 

* Keep your arm covered from his sight.' 

« Ah — he knows the disfigurement is there 1 ' She 
tried to hide the tears that filled her eyes. 

•Well, ma'am, I earnestly hope it will go away 
soon.' 

And sr, the milkwoman's mind was chained anew 
to the subject by a horrid sort of spell as she returned 
home. I'he sense of having been guilty of an act of 
malignity increased, affect as she might to ridicule her 

79 



WESSEX TALES 

superstition. In her secret heart Rhoda did not alto- 
gether object to a slight diminution of her successor's 
beauty, by whatever means it had come about; but 
she did not wish to inflict upon her physical pain. For 
though this pretty young woman had rendered impossible 
any reparation which Lodge might have made Rhoda 
for his past conduct, everything like resentment at the 
unconscious usurpation had quite passed away from the 
elder's mind. 

If the sweet and kindly Gertrude Lodge only knew 
of the scene in the bed-chamber, what would she think ? 
Not to inforrn her of it seemed treachery in the presence 
of her friendliness ; but tell she could not of her own 
accord — neither could she devise a remedy. 

She mused upon the matter the greater part of the 
night; and the next day, after the morning milking, 
set out to obtain another glimpse of Gertrude Lodge if 
she could, being held to her by a gruesome fascination. 
By watching the house from a distance the milkmaid 
was presently able to discern the farmer's wife in a ride 
she was taking alone — probably to join her husband 
in some distant field. Mrs. Lodge perceived her, and 
cantered in her direction. 

' Good morning, Rhoda ! * Gertrude said, when she 
had come up. ' I was going to call.' 

Rhoda noticed that Mrs. Lodge held the reins with 
some difficulty. 

* I hope — the bad arm,* said Rhoda. 

'They tell me there is possibly one way by which 
I might be able to find out the cause, and so perhaps 
the cure, of it,' replied the other anxiously. * It is by 
going to some clever man over in Egdon Heath. They 
did not know if he was still alive — and I cannot re- 
member his name at this moment ; but they said that 
you knew more of his movements than anybody else 
hereabout, and could tell me if he were still to be con- 
sulted. Dear me — what was his name ? But you know.* 

80 



THE WITHERED ARM 

*Not Conjuror Trendle?' said her thin companion, 
turning pale. 

' Trendle — yes. Is he alive ? ' 

' I believe so,' said Rhoda, with reluctance. 

' Why do you call him conjuror ? ' 

'Well — they say — they used to say he was a -he 
had powers other folks have not.' 

' O, how could my people be so superstitious as to 
recommend a man of that sort ! I thought they meant 
some medical man. I shall think no more of him.' 

Rhoda looked relieved, and Mrs. Lodge rode on. 
The milkwoman had inwardly seen, from the moment 
she heard of her having been mentioned as a reference 
for this man, that there must exist a sarcastic feeling 
amonn; the work-folk that a sorceress would know the 
whereabouts of the exorcist. They suspected her, then. 
A short time ago this would have given no concern to 
a woman of her common-sense. But she had a haunt- 
ing reason to be superstitious now; and she had been 
seized with sudden dread that this Conjuror Trendle 
might name her as the malignant influence which was 
blasting the fair person of Gertrude, and so lead her 
friend to hate her for ever, and to treat her as some 
fiend in human shape. 

But all was not over. Two days after, a shadow 
intruded into the window-pattern thrown on Rhoda 
Brook's floor by the afternoon sun. The woman opened 
the door at once, almost breathlessly. 

* Are you alone ? ' said Gertrude. She seemed to be 
no less harassed and anxious than Brook herself. 

*Yes,' said Rhoda, 

•The place on my arm seems worse, and troubles 
me ! ' the young farmer's wife went on. * It is so 
mysterious 1 I do hope it will not be an incurable 
wound. I have again been thinking of what they 
said about Conjuror Trendle. I don't really believe 
in such men, but I should not mind just visiting him, 

8i f 



WESSEX TALES 

from curiosity — though on no account must my husband 
know. Is it far to where he lives ? * 

* Yes — five miles,' said Rhoda backwardly. ' In the 
heart of Egdon,' 

* Well, I should have to walk. Could not you go 
with me to show me the way — say to-morrow after- 
noon ? ' 

* O, not I — that is,' the milkwoman murmured, 
with a start of dismay. Again the dread seized her 
that something to do with her fierce act in the dream 
might be revealed, and her character in the eyes of 
the most useful friend she had ever had be ruined 
irretrievably. 

Mrs. Lodge urged, and Rhoda finally assented, though 
with much misgiving. Sad as the journey would be to 
her, she could not conscientiously stand in the way of 
a possible remedy for her patron's strange affliction. 
It was agreed that, to escape suspicion of their mystic 
intent, they should meet at the edge of the heath at the 
corner of a plantation which was visible from the spot 
where they now stood. 



f> 



CONJUROR TRENDLE 



Jl)Y the next afternoon Rhoda would have done any- 
thing to escape this inquiry. But she had promised to 
go. Moreover, there was a horrid fascination at times 
in becoming instrumental in throwing such possible light 
on her own character as would reveal her to be some- 
thing greater in the occult world than she had ever her- 
self suspected. 

She started just before the time of day mentioned 
between them, and half-an-hour's brisk walking brought 
her to the south-eastern extension of the Egdon tract of 
country, where the fir plantation was. A slight figure, 
cloaked and veiled, was already there. Rhoda recog- 
nized, almost with a shudder, that Mrs. Lodge bore her 
left arm in a sling. 

They hardly spoke to each other, and immediately 
set out on their climb into the interior of this solemn 
country, which stood high above the rich alluvial soil 
they had left half-an-hour before. It was a long walk ; 
thick clouds made the atmosphere dark, though it was 
as yet only early afternoon ; and the wind howled 
dismally over the hills of the heath — not improbably 
the same heath which had witnessed the agony of the 

83 



WESSEX TALES 

Wessex King Ina, presented to after-ages as Lear. 
Gertrude Lodge talked most, Rhoda replying with 
monosyllabic preoccupation. She had a strange dislike 
to walking on the side of her companion where hung 
the afflicted arm, moving round to the other when in- 
advertently near it. Much heather had been brushed 
by their feet when they descended upon a cart-track, 
beside which stood the house of the man they sought. 

He did not profess his remedial practices openly, 
or care anything about their continuance, his direct 
interests being those of a dealer in furze, turf, * sharp 
sand,* and other local products. Indeed, he affected 
not to beUeve largely in his own powers, and when 
warts that had been shown him for cure miraculously 
disappeared — which it must be owned they infallibly 
did — he would say lightly, *0, I only drink a glass of 
grog upon 'em — perhaps it's all chance,' and immedi- 
ately turn the subject. 

He was at home when they arrived, having in fact 
seen them descending into his valley. He was a gray- 
bearded man, with a reddish face, and he looked 
singularly at Rhoda the first moment he beheld her. 
Mrs. Lodge told him her errand ; and then with words 
of self-disparagement he examined her arm. 

'Medicine can't cure it,' he said promptly. *'Tis 
the work of an enemy.' 

Rhoda shrank into herself, and drew back. 

* An enemy ? What enemy ? ' asked Mrs. Lodge. 

He shook his head. 'That's best known to your- 
self,' he said. ' If you like, I can show the person to 
you, though I shall not myself know who it is. I can 
do no more ; and don't wish to do that.' 

She pressed him; on which he told Rhoda to wait 
outside where she stood, and took Mrs. Lodge into the 
room. It opened immediately from the door ; and, as 
the latter remained ajar, Rhoda Brook could see the 
proceedings without taking part in them. He brought 

84 



THE WITHERED ARM 

a tumbler from the dresser, nearly filled it with water, 
and fetching an egg, prepared it in some private way; 
after which he broke it on the edge of the glass, so 
that the white went in and the yolk remained. As it 
was getting gloomy, he took the glass and its contents 
to the window, and told Gertrude to watch them 
closely. They leant over the table together, and the 
milkwoman could see the opaline hue of the egg-fluid 
changing form as it sank in the water, but she was not 
near enough to define the shape that it assumed. 

' Do you catch the Hkeness of any face or figure 
as you look?' demanded the conjuror of the young 
woman. 

She murmured a reply, in tones so low as to be 
inaudible to Rhoda, and continued to gaze intently 
into the glass. Rhoda turned, and walked a few steps 
away. 

When Mrs. Lodge came out, and her face was met 
by the light, it appeared exceedingly pale — as pale as 
Rhoda's — against the sad dun shades of the upland's 
garniture. Trendle shut the door behind her, and they 
at once started homeward together. But Rhoda per- 
ceived that her companion had quite changed. 

* Did he charge much ? ' she asked tentatively. 

«0 no — nothing. He would not take a farthing,* 
said Gertrude. 

' And what did you see ? ' inquired Rhoda. 

* Nothing I — care to speak of.' The constraint in 
her manner was remarkable ; her face was so rigid as to 
wear an oldened aspect, faintly suggestive of the face 
in Rhoda's bed-chamber. 

' Was it you who first proposed coming here ? ' Mrs. 
Lodge suddenly inquired, after a long pause. ' How 
very odd, if you did ! ' 

* No. But I am not sorry we have come, all things 
considered,' she replied. For the first time a sense 
of triumph possessed her, and she did not altogether 

8$ 



WESSEX TALES 

deplore that the young thing at her side should learn 
that their lives had been antagonized by other influences 
than their own. 

The subject was no more alluded to during the long 
and dreary walk home. But in some way or other a 
story was whispered about the many-dairied lowland 
that winter that Mrs. Lodge's gradual loss of the use 
of her left arm was owing to her being ' overlooked ' 
by Rhoda Brook. The latter kept her own counsel 
about the incubus, but her face grew sadder and thinner ; 
and in the spring she and her boy disappeared from the 
neighbourhood of Holmstoke. 



A SECOND ATTEMPT 

VI 

riALF-a-dozen years passed away, and Mr. and Mrs. 
Lodge's married experience sank into prosiness, and 
worse. The farmer was usually gloomy and silent : the 
woman whom he had wooed for her grace and beauty 
was contorted and disfigured in the left limb ; moreover, 
she had brought him no child, which rendered it likely 
that he would be the last of a family who had occupied 
that valley for some two hundred years. He thought 
of Rhoda Brook and her son ; and feared this might be 
a judgment from heaven upon him. 

The once blithe-hearted and enlightened Gertrude 
was changing into an irritable, superstitious woman, 
whose whole time was given to experimenting upon 
her ailment with every quack remedy she came across. 
She was honesdy attached to her husband, and was 
ever secretly hoping against hope to win back his 
heart again by regaining some at least of her personal 
beauty. Hence it arose that her closet was lined with 
bottles, packets, and ointment-pots of every description 
— nay, bunches of mystic herbs, charms, and books of 
necromancy, which in her schoolgirl time she would 
have ridiculed as folly. 

o 87 



WESSEX TALES 

'Damned if you won't poison yourself with these 
apothecary messes and witch mixtures some time or 
other,' said her husband, when his eye chanced to fall 
upon the multitudinous array. 

She did not reply, but turned her sad, soft glance 
upon him in such heart-swollen reproach that he looked 
sorry for his words, and added, ' I only meant it for 
your good, you know, Gertrude.' 

* I'll clear out the whole lot, and destroy them,* said 
she huskily, ' and try such remedies no more ! ' 

•You want somebody to cheer you,' he observed. 
' I once thought of adopting a boy ; but he is too old 
now. And he is gone away I don't know where.' 

She guessed to whom he alluded ; for Rhoda Brook's 
story had in the course of years become known to 
her; though not a word had ever passed between her 
husband and herself on the subject. Neither had she 
ever spoken to him of her visit to Conjuror Trendle, 
and of what was revealed to her, or she thought was 
revealed to her, by that solitary heath-man. 

She was now five-and-twenty ; but she seemed older. 
' Six years of marriage, and only a few months of love,' 
she sometimes whispered to herself. And then she 
thought of the apparent cause, and said, with a tragic 
glance at her withering limb, ' If I could only again be 
as I was when he first saw me ! ' 

She obediently destroyed her nostr ams and charms ; 
but there remained a hankering wish to try something 
else — some other sort of cure altor:ether. She had 
never revisited Trendle since she had been conducted 
to the house of the solitary by Rhoda against her will ; 
but it now suddenly occurred to Gertrude that she 
would, in a last desperate effort at deliverance from 
this seeming curse, again seek out the man, if he yet 
lived. He was entitled to a certain credence, for the 
indistinct form he had raised in the glass had un- 
doubtedly resembled the only woman in the world who 

8S 



*--- THE WITHERED ARM 

— as she now knew, though not then — could have a 
reason for bearing her ill-will. The visit should be paid. 

This time she went alone, though she nearly got 
lost on the heath, and roamed a considerable distance 
out of her way. Trendle's house was reached at last, 
however: he was not indoors, and instead of waiting 
at the cottage, she went to where his bent figure was 
pointed out to her at work a long way off. Trendle 
remembered her, and laying down the handful of 
furze-roots which he was gathering and throwing into 
a heap, he offered to accompany her in her homeward 
direction, as the distance was considerable and the days 
were short. So they walked together, his head bowed 
nearly to the earth, and his form of a colour with it. 

' You can send away warts and other excrescences, 
I know,' she said ; ' why can't you send away this ? ' 
And the arm was uncovered. 

* You think too much of my powers ! ' said Trendle ; 
* and I am old and weak now, too. No, no ; it is too 
much for me to atttempt in my own person. What 
have ye tried?' 

She named to him some of the hundred medica- 
ments and counterspells which she had adopted from 
time to time. He shook his head. 

' Some were good enough,' he said approvingly ; 
*but not many of them for such as this. This is of 
the nature of a blight, not of the nature of a wound ; 
and if you ever do throw it off, it will be all at once.' 

' If I only could ! ' 

' There is only one chance of doing it known to me. 
It has never failed in kindred afflictions, — that I can 
declare. But it is hard to carry out, and especially for 
a woman.' 

' Tell me ! ' said she. 

' You must touch with the limb the neck of a man 
who's been hanged.' 

She started a little at the image he had raised, 

89 



WESSEX TALES 

' Before he's cold — just after he's cut down,' con- 
tinued the conjuror impassively, 

* How can that do good ? * 

' It will turn the blood and change the constitution, 
But, as I say, to do it is hard. You must get into jail, 
and wait for him when he's brought off the gallows. Ix)ts 
have done it, though perhaps not such pretty women 
as you. I used to send dozens for skin complaints. 
But that was in former times. The last I sent was 
in '13 — near twenty years ago.* 

He had no more to tell her ; and, when he had put 
her into a straight track homeward, turned and left her, 
refusing all money as at first 



A RIDE 



VII 



The communication sank deep into Gertrude's mind. 
Her nature was rather a timid one ; and probably of all 
remedies that the white wizard could have suggested 
there was not one which would have filled her with so 
much aversion as this, not to speak of the immense 
obstacles in the way of its adoption. 

Casterbridge, the county-town, was a dozen or fifteen 
miles off; and though in those days, when men were 
executed for horse-stealing, arson, and burglary, an 
assize seldom passed without a hanging, it was not 
likely that she could get access to the body of the 
criminal unaided. And the fear of her husband's anger 
made her reluctant to breathe a word of Trendle's 
suggestion to him or to anybody about him. 

She did nothing for months, and patiently bore her 
disfigurement as before. But her woman's nature, 
craving for renewed love, through the medium of 
renewed beauty (she was but twenty-five), was ever 
stimulating her to try what, at any rate, could hardly 
do her any harm. ' What came by a spell will go by 
a spell surely,' she would say. Whenever her imagi- 
nation pictured the act she shrank in terror from the 

9» 



WESSEX TALES 

possibility of it : then the words of the conjuror, ' It 
will turn your blood,' were seen to be capable of a scien- 
tific no lessthan a ghastly interpretation ; the mastering 
desire returned, and urged her on again. 

There was at this time but one county paper, and 
that her husband only occasionally borrowed. But 
old-fashioned days had old-fashioned means, and news 
was extensively conveyed by word of mouth from market 
to market, or from fair to fair, so that, whenever such 
an event as an execution was about to take place, few 
within a radius of twenty miles were ignorant of the 
coming sight ; and, so far as Holmstoke was concerned, 
some enthusiasts had been known to walk all the way to 
Casterbridge and back in one day, solely to witness the 
spectacle. The next assizes were in March ; and when 
Gertrude Lodge heard that they had been held, she in- 
quired stealthily at the inn as to the result, as soon as 
she could find opportunity. 

She was, however, too late. The time at which the 
sentences were to be carried out had arrived, and to 
make the journey and obtain admission at such short 
notice required at least her husband's assistance. She 
dared not tell him, for she had found by delicate ex- 
periment that these smouldering village beliefs made 
him furious if mentioned, partly because he half enter- 
tained them himself. It was therefore necessary to 
wait for another opportunity. 

Her determination received a fillip from learning that 
two epileptic children had attended from this very 
village of Holmstoke many years before with beneficial 
results, though the experiment had been strongly con- 
demned by the neighbouring clergy. April, May, June, 
passed ; and it is no overstatement to say that by the 
end of the last-named month Gertrude well-nigh longed 
for the death of a fellow-creature. Instead of her formal 
prayers each night, her unconscious prayer was, * O Lord, 
hang some guilty or innocent person soon I ' 

92 



'^ 



4^-.- THE WITHERED ARM 

This time she made earlier inquiries, and was alto- 
gether more systematic in her proceedings. Moreover, 
the season was summer, between the haymaking and 
the harvest, and in the leisure thus afforded him her hus- 
band had been holiday-taking away from home. 

The assizes were in July, and she went to the inn as 
before. There was to be one execution — only one — for 
arson. 

Her greatest problem was not how to get to Caster- 
bridge, but what means she should adopt for obtaining 
admission to the jail. Though access for such purposes 
had formerly never been denied, the custom had fallen 
into desuetude ; and in contemplating her possible diffi- 
culties, she was again almost driven to fall back upon 
her husband. But, on sounding him about the assizes, 
he was so uncommunicative, so more than usually cold, 
that she did not proceed, and decided that whatever she 
did she would do alone. 

Fortune, obdurate hitherto, showed her unexpected 
favour. On the Thursday before the Saturday fixed for 
the execution, Lodge remarked to her that he was going 
away from home for another day or two on business 
at a fair, and that he was sorry he could not take her 
with him. 

She exhibited on this occasion so much readiness to 
stay at home that he looked at her in surprise. Time 
had been when she would have shown deep disappoint- 
ment at the loss of such a jaunt. However, he lapsed 
into his usual taciturnity, and on the day named left 
Holmstoke. 

It was now her turn. She at first had thought of 
driving, but on reflection held that driving would not 
do, since it would necessitate her keeping to the turn- 
pike-road, and so increase by tenfold the risk of her 
ghastly errand being found out. She decided to ride, 
and avoid the beaten track, notwithstanding that in 
her husband's stables there was no animal just at 

93 



WESSEX TALES 

present which by any stretch of imagination could be 
considered a lady's mount, in spite of his promise be- 
fore marriage to always keep a mare for her. He had, 
however, many cart-horses, fine ones of their kind; 
and among the rest was a serviceable creature, an 
equine Amazon, with a back as broad as a sofa, on 
which Gertrude had occasionally taken an airing when 
unwell. This horse she chose. 

On Friday afternoon one of the men brought it 
round. She was dressed, and before going down looked 
at her shrivelled arm. * Ah ! ' she said to it, • if it had 
not been for you this terrible ordeal would have been 
saved me ! * 

When strapping up the bundle in which she carried 
a few articles of clothing, she took occasion to say to the 
servant, ' I take these in case I should not get back to- 
night from the person I am going to visit. Don't be 
alarmed if I am not in by ten, and close up the house 
as usual. I shall be at home to-morrow for certain.' 
She meant then to privately tell her husband : the deed 
accomplished was not like the deed projected. He 
would almost certainly forgive her. 

And then the pretty palpitating Gertrude Lodge 
went from her husband's homestead ; but though her 
goal was Casterbridge she did not take the direct route 
thither through Stickleford. Her cunning course at 
first was in precisely the opposite direction. As soon 
as she was out of sight, however, she turned to the left, 
by a road which led into Egdon, and on entering the 
heath wheeled round, and set out in the true course, 
due westerly. A more private way down the county 
could not be imagined; and as to direction, she had 
merely to keep her horse's head to a point a little to 
the right of the sun. She knew that she would light 
upon a furze-cutter or cottager of some sort from time 
to time, from whom she might correct her bearing. 

Though the date was comparatively recent, Egdon 

94 



"" THE WITHERED ARM 

was much less fragmentary in character than now. 
The attempts — successful and otherwise — at cultivation 
on the lower slopes, which intrude and break up the 
original heath into small detached heaths, had not been 
carried far; Enclosure Acts had not taken effect, and 
the banks and fences which now exclude the cattle 
of those villagers who formerly enjoyed rights of 
commonage thereon, and the carts of those who had 
turbary privileges which kept them in firing all the year 
round, were not erected. Gertrude, therefore, rode 
along with no other obstacles than the prickly furze- 
bushes, the mats of heather, the white water-courses, 
and the natural steeps and declivities of the ground. 

Her horse was sure, if heavy-footed and slow, and 
though a draught animal, was easy- paced ; had it been 
otherwise, she was not a woman who could have 
ventured to ride over such a bit of country with a 
half-dead arm. It was therefore nearly eight o'clock 
when she drew rein to breathe the mare on the last 
outlying high point of heath-land towards Casterbridge, 
previous to leaving Egdon for the cultivated valleys. 

She halted before a pool called Rushy-pond, flanked 
by the ends of two hedges ; a railing ran through the 
centre of the pond, dividing it in half Over the railing 
she saw the low green country ; over the green trees the 
roofs of the town ; over the roofs a white flat facade, de- 
noting the entrance to the county jail. On the roof of 
this front specks were moving about ; they seemed to be 
workmen erecting something. Her flesh crept. She 
descended slowly, and was soon amid corn-fields and 
pastures. In another half-hour, when it was almost 
dusk, Gertrude reached the White Hart, the first inn 
of the town on that side. 

Little surprise was excited by her arrival; farmers' 
wives rode on horseback then more than they do now ; 
though, for that matter, Mrs. Lodge was not imagined 
to be a wife at aU ; the innkeeper supposed her some 

95 






WESSEX TALES 

harum-skarum young woman who had come to attend 
' hang-fair ' next day. Neither her husband nor herself 
ever dealt in Casterbridge market, so that she was 
unknown. While dismounting she beheld a crowd of 
boys standing at the door of a harness-maker's shop 
just above the inn, looking inside it with deep interest. 

' What is going on there ? ' she asked of the ostler. 

* Making the rope for to-morrow.* 

She throbbed responsively, and contracted her arm. 

' 'Tis sold by the inch afterwards,' the man con- 
tinued. ' I could get you a bit, miss, for nothing, if 
you'd like ? * 

She hastily repudiated any such wish, all the more 
from a curious creeping feeling that the condemned 
wretch's destiny was becoming interwoven with her 
own; and having engaged a room for the night, sat 
down to think. 

Up to this time she had formed but the vaguest 
notions about her means of obtaining access to the 
prison. The words of the cunning-man returned to 
her mind. He had implied that she should use her 
beauty, impaired though it was, as a pass-key. In her 
inexperience she knew little about jail functionaries; 
she had heard of a high-sheriff and an under-sheriff, 
but dimly only. She knew, however, that there must 
be a hangman, and to the hangman she determined to 
apply. 



A WATER-SIDE HERMIT 



VIII 



At this date, and for several years after, there was a 
hangman to almost every jail. Gertrude found, on 
inquiry, that the Casterbridge official dwelt in a lonely 
cottage by a deep slow river flowing under the cliflf on 
which the prison buildings were situate — the stream 
being the self-same one, though she did not know it, 
which watered the Stickleford and Holmstoke meads 
lower down in its course. 

Having changed her dress, and before she had eaten 
or drunk — for she could not take her ease till she had 
ascertained some particulars — Gertrude pursued her way 
by a path along the water-side to the cottage indicated. 
Passing thus the outskirts of the jail, she discerned on 
the level roof over the gateway three rectangular lines 
against the sky, where the specks had been moving in 
her distant view ; she recognized what the erection was, 
and passed quickly on. Another hundred yards brought 
her to the executioner's house, which a boy pointed out. 
It stood close to the same stream, and was hard by a 
weir, the waters of which emitted a steady roar. 

While she stood hesitating the door opened, and an 
old man came forth shading a candle with one hand. 

99 O 



WESSEX TALES 

Locking the door on the outside, he turned to a flight 
of wooden steps fixed against the end of the cottage, 
and began to ascend them, this being evidently the 
staircase to his bedroom. Gertrude hastened forward, 
but by the time she reached the foot of the ladder he 
was at the top. She called to him loudly enough to be 
heard above the roar of the weir ; he looked down and 
said, ' What d'ye want here ? ' 

* To speak to you a minute.' 

The candle-light, such as it was, fell upon her im- 
ploring, pale, upturned face, and Davies (as the hang- 
man was called) backed down the ladder. ' I was just 
going to bed,' he said ; * " Early to bed and early to 
rise," but I don't mind stopping a minute for such a 
one as you. Come into house.' He reopened the door, 
and preceded her to the room within. 

The implements of his daily work, which was that 
of a jobbing gardener, stood in a corner, and seeing 
probably that she looked rural, he said, ' If you want 
me to undertake country work I can't come, for I 
never leave Casterbridge for gentle nor simple — not 
I. My real calling is officer of justice,' he added 
formally. 

* Yes, yes ! That's it. To-morrow ! * 

* Ah ! I thought so. Well, what's the matter about 
that? 'Tis no use to come here about the knot — 
folks do come continually, but I tell 'era one knot 
is as merciful as another if ye keep it under the ear. 
Is the unfortunate man a relation ; or, I should say, 
perhaps ' (looking at her dress) ' a person who's been 
in your employ ? ' 

* No. What time is the execution ? * 

* The same as usual — twelve o'clock, or as soon after 
as the London mail-coach gets in. We always wait for 
that, in case of a reprieve.' 

* O — a reprieve — I hope not I * she said involun- 
tarily. 

98 



THE WITHERED ARM 

« Well, — hee, hee ! — as a matter of business, so do 
I ! But still, if ever a young fellow deserved to be let 
off, this one does ; only just turned eighteen, and only 
present by chance when the rick was fired. Howsom- 
ever, there's not much risk of it, as they are obliged 
to make an example of him, there having been so much 
destruction of property that way lately.' 

' I mean,' she explained, ' that I want to touch him 
for a charm, a cure of an affliction, by the advice of a 
man who has proved the virtue of the remedy.* 

' O yes, miss ! Now I understand. I've had such 
people come in past years. But it didn't strike m.e 
that you looked of a sort to require blood-turning. 
What's the complaint? The wrong kind for this, I'll 
be bound.' 

•My arm.' She reluctantly showed the withered 
skin. 

' Ah ! — 'tis all a-scram 1 ' said the hangman, examin- 
ing it. 

' Yes,* said she. 

• Well,' he continued, with interest, • that is the class 
o' subject, I'm bound to admit ! I like the look of 
the place ; it is truly as suitable for the cure as any I 
ever saw. 'Twas a knowing-man that sent 'ee, whoever 
he was.' 

' You can contrive for me all that's necessary ? ' she 
said breathlessly. 

' You should really have gone to the governor of the 
jail, and your doctor with 'ee, and given your name and 
address — that's how it used to be done, if I recollect 
Still, perhaps, I can manage it for a trifling fee.' 

' O, thank you ! I would rather do it this way, as 
I should like it kept private.' 

• Lover not to know, eh ? * 

• No— husband.' 

• Aha ! Very well. I'll get ee' a touch of the corpse.* 
« Where is it now ? ' she said, shuddering. 

99 



WESSEX TALES 

' It ? — he, you mean ; he's living yet. Just inside 
that little small winder up there in the glum.' He 
signified the jail on the cliff above. 

She thought of her husband and her friends. ' Yes, 
of course,' she said ; ' and how am I to proceed ? ' 

He took her to the door. ' Now, do you be waiting 
at the little wicket in the wall, that you'll find up there 
in the lane, not later than one o'clock. I will open it 
from the inside, as I shan't come home to dinner till 
he's cut down. Good-night. Be punctual ; and if you 
don't want anybody to know 'ee, wear a veil. Ah — 
once I had such a daughter as you ! * 

She went away, and climbed the path above, to 
assure herself that she would be able to find the 
wicket next day. Its outline was soon visible to her — 
a narrow opening in the outer wall of the prison pre- 
cincts. The steep was so great that, having reached the 
wicket, she stopped a moment to breathe ; and, looking 
back upon the water-side cot, saw the hangman again 
ascending his outdoor staircase. He entered the loft 
or chamber to which it led, and in a few minutes 
extinguished his light. 

The town clock struck ten, and she returned to the 
White Hart as she had come. 






A RENCOUNTER 

IX 

It was one o'clock on Saturday. Gertrude Lodge, 
having been admitted to the jail as above described, was 
sitting in a waiting-room within the second gate, which 
stood under a classic archway of ashlar, then compa- 
ratively modern, and bearing the inscription, 'covnty 
JAIL: 1793.' This had been the facade she saw from 
the heath the day before. Near at hand was a passage 
to the roof on which the gallows stood. 

The town was thronged, and the market suspended ; 
but Gertrude had seen scarcely a soul. Having kept 
her room till the hour of the appointment, she had 
proceeded to the spot by a way which avoided the open 
space below the cliff where the spectators had gathered ; 
but she could, even now, hear the multitudinous babble 
of their voices, out of which rose at intervals the hoarse 
croak of a single voice uttering the words, ' Last dying 
speech and confession ! ' There had been no reprieve, 
and the execution was over ; but the crowd still waited 
to see the body taken down. 

Soon the persistent girl heard a trampling overhead, 
then a hand beckoned to her, and, following directions, 
she went out and crossed the inner paved court beyond 

lOI 



WESSEX TALES 

the gatehouse, her knees trembling so that she could 
scarcely walk. One of her arms was out of its sleeve, 
and only covered by her shawl. 

On the spot at which she had now arrived were two 
trestles, and before she could think of their purpose she 
heard heavy feet descending stairs somewhere at her 
back. Turn her head she would not, or could not, 
and, rigid in this position, she was conscious of a rough 
coffin passing her shoulder, borne by four men. It 
was open, and in it lay the body of a young man, wear- 
ing the smockfrock of a rustic, and fustian breeches. 
The copse had been thrown into the coffin so hastily 
that the skirt of the smockfrock was hanging over. The 
burden was temporarily deposited on the trestles. 

By this time the young woman's state was such that 
a gray mist seemed to float before her eyes, on account 
of which, and the veil she wore, she could scarcely dis- 
cern anything: it was as though she had nearly died, 
but was held up by a sort of galvanism. 

' Now ! ' said a voice close at hand, and she was just 
conscious that the word had been addressed to her. 

By a last strenuous effort she advanced, at the same 
time hearing persons approaching behind her. She 
bared her poor curst arm ; and Davies, uncovering the 
face of the corpse, took Gertrude's hand, and held it 
so that her arm lay across the dead man's neck, upon 
a line the colour of an unripe blackberry, which sur- 
rounded it. 

Gertrude shrieked : ' the turn o' the blood,' predicted 
by the conjuror, had taken place. But at that moment 
a second shriek rent the air of the enclosure: it was 
not Gertrude's, and its effect upon her was to make 
her start round. 

Immediately behind her stood Rhoda Brook, her 
fece drawn, and her eyes red with weeping. Behind 
Rhoda stood Gertrude's own husband ; his countenance 
lined, his eyes dim, but without a tear. 

loa 



*-* THE WITHERED ARM 

' D — n you ! what are you doing here ? ' he said 

hoarsely. 

* Hussy — to come between us and our child now ! ' 
cried Rhoda. *This is the meaning of what Satai 
showed me in the vision ! You are like her at last ! 
And clutching the bare arm of the younger woman, 
she pulled her unresistingly back against the wall. 
Immediately Brook had loosened her hold the fragile 
young Gertrude sHd down against the feet of her hus- 
band. When he lifted her up she was unconscious. 

The mere sight of the twain had been enough to 
suggest to her that the dead young man was Rhoda's 
son. At that time the relatives of an executed convict 
had the privilege of claiming the body for burial, if they 
chose to do so ; and it was for this purpose that Lodge 
was awaiting the inquest with Rhoda. He had been 
summoned by her as soon as the young man was taken 
in the crime, and at different times since ; and he had 
attended in court during the trial. This was the 
' holiday ' he had been indulging in of late. The two 
wretched parents had wished to avoid exposure; and 
hence had come themselves for the body, a waggon 
and sheet for its conveyance and covering being in 
waiting outside. 

Gertrude's case was so serious that it was deemed 
advisable to call to her the surgeon who was at hand. 
She was taken out of the jail into the town ; but she 
never reached home alive. Her dehcate vitaUty, sapped 
perhaps by the paralyzed arm, collapsed under the 
double shock that followed the severe strain, physical 
and mental, to which she had subjected herself during 
the previous tvventy-four hours. Her blood had been 
' turned ' indeed — too far. Her death took place in the 
town three days after. 

Her husband was never seen in Casterbridge again ; 
once only in the old market-place at Anglebury, which 
he had so much frequented, and very seldom in public 
H 103 



WESSEX TALES 

anywhere. Burdened at first with moodiness and 
remorse, he eventually changed for the better, and 
appeared as a chastened and thoughtful man. Soon 
after attending the funeral of his poor young wife he 
took steps towards giving up the farms in Holmstoke 
and the adjoining parish, and, having sold every head 
of his stock, he went away to Port-Bredy, at the other 
end of the county, living there in solitary lodgings till 
his death two years later of a painless decline. It was 
then found that he had bequeathed the whole of his 
not inconsiderable property to a reformatory for boys, 
subject to the payment of a small annuity to Rhoda 
Brook, if she could be found to claim it. 

For some time she could not be found ; but even- 
tually she reappeared in her old parish, — absolutely 
refusing, however, to have anything to do with the 
provision made for her. Her monotonous milking at 
the dairy was resumed, and followed for many long 
years, till her form became bent, and her once abundant 
dark hair white and worn away at the forehead — per- 
haps by long pressure against the cows. Here, some- 
times, those who knew her experiences would stand and 
observe her, and wonder what sombre thoughts were 
beating inside that impassive, wrinkled brow, to the 
rhythm of the alternating milk-streams. 

{* Blackwood's Magazine^ January 1S88.) 



J 



FBLL O W- TO WNSMEl^r 



FELLOW- TO WNSMEN 



1 HE shepherd on the east hill could shout out lamb- 
ing intelligence to the shepherd on the west hill, over 
the intervening town chimneys, without great incon- 
venience to his voice, so nearly did the steep pastures 
encroach upon the burghers' backyards. And at night 
it was possible to stand in the very midst of the town 
and hear from their native paddocks on the lower levels 
of greensward the mild lowing of the farmer's heifers, 
and the profound, warm blowings of breath in which 
those creatures indulge. But the community which had 
jammed itself in the valley thus flanked formed a veri- 
table town, with a real mayor and corporation, and a 
staple manufacture. 

During a certain damp evening five-and-thirty years 
ago, before the twilight was far advanced, a pedestrian 
of professional appearance, carrying a small bag in his 
hand and an elevated umbrella, was descending one of 
these hills by the turnpike road when he was overtaken 
by a phaeton. 

' Hullo, Downe — is that you ? ' said the driver of 
the vehicle, a young man of pale and refined appearance. 
'Jump up here with me, and ride down to your door.' 

107 



•WESSEX TALES 

The other turned a plump, cheery, rather self-indul- 
gent face over his shoulder towards the hailer. 

* O, good evening, Mr. Barnet — thanks,' he said, and 
mounted beside his acquaintance. 

They were fellow-burgesses of the town which lay 
beneath them, but though old and very good friends, 
they were differently circumstanced. Barnet was a 
richer man than the struggling young lawyer Downe, 
a fact which was to some extent perceptible in Downe's 
manner towards his companion, though nothing of it 
ever showed in Barnet's manner towards the solicitor. 
Barnet's position in the town was none of his own 
making; his father had been a very successful flax- 
merchant in the same place, where the trade was still 
carried on as briskly as the small capacities of its 
quarters would allow. Having acquired a fair fortune, 
old Mr. Barnet had retired from business, bringing up 
his son as a gentleman-burgher, and, it must be added, 
as a well-educated, liberal-minded young man. 

' How is Mrs. Barnet ? ' asked Downe. 

•Mrs. Barnet was very well when I left home,' the 
other answered constrainedly, exchanging his meditative 
regard of the horse for one of self-consciousness. 

Mr. Downe seemed to regret his inquiry, and imme- 
diately took up another thread of conversation. He 
congratulated his friend on his election as a council- 
man; he thought he had not seen him since that 
event took place; Mrs. Downe had meant to call and 
congratulate Mrs. Barnet, but he feared that she had 
failed to do so as yet. 

Barnet seemed hampered in his replies. * We should 
have been glad to see you. I — my wife would wel- 
come Mrs, Downe at any time, as you know. . . . 
Yes, I am a member of the corporation — rather an 
inexperienced member, some of them say. It is quite 
true ; and I should have declined the honour as 
premature — having other things on my hands just now, 

io8 



^-^ FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

too — if it had not been pressed upon me so very 
heartily.' 

' There is one thing you have on your hands which 
I can never quite see the necessity for/ said Downe, 
with good-humoured freedom. ' ^^^^at the deuce do 
you want to build that new mansion for, when you 
have already got such an excellent house as the one 
you live in ? ' 

Barnet's face acquired a warmer shade of colour; 
but as the question had been idly asked by the solicitor 
while regarding the surrounding flocks and fields, he 
answered after a moment with no apparent embarrass- 
ment — 

* Well, we wanted to get out of the town, you know ; 
the house I am living in is rather old and inconvenient.' 

Mr. Downe declared that he had chosen a pretty 
site for the new building. They would be able to see 
for miles and miles from the windows. Was he going 
to give it a name ? He supposed so. 

Barnet thought not. There was no other house 
near that was likely to be mistaken for it. And he 
did not care for a name. 

' But I think it has a name ! ' Downe observed : ' I 
went past — when was it? — this morning; and I saw 
something, — " Chateau Ringdale," I think it was, stuck 
up on a board ! ' 

* It was an idea she — we had for a short time,' said 
Barnet hastily. * But we have decided finally to do 
without a name — at any rate such a name as that. It 
must have been a week ago that you saw it. It was 
taken down last Saturday. . . . Upon that matter I 
am firm ! ' he added grimly. 

Downe murmured in an unconvinced tone that he 
thought he had seen it yesterday. 

Talking thus they drove into the town. The street 
was unusually still for the hour of seven in the evening ; 
an increasing drizzle had prevailed since the afternoon, 

109 



WESSEX TALES 

and now formed a gauze across the yellow lamps, and 
trickled with a gentle rattle down the heavy roofs of 
stone tile, that bent the house-ridges hollow-backed 
with its weight, and in some instances caused the walls 
to bulge outwards in the upper story. Their route took 
them past the little town-hall, the Black-Bull Hotel, and 
onward to the junction of a small street on the right, 
consisting of a row of those two-and-two windowed brick 
residences of no particular age, which are exactly alike 
wherever found, except in the people they contain. 

* Wait — I'll drive you up to your door,' said Barnet, 
when Downe prepared to alight at the corner. He 
thereupon turned into the narrow street, when the 
faces of three Uttle girls could be discerned close to 
the panes of a lighted window a few yards ahead, sur- 
mounted by that of a young matron, the gaze of all 
four being directed eagerly up the empty street. * You 
are a fortunate fellow, Downe,' Barnet continued, as 
mother and children disappeared from the window to 
run to the door. ' You must be happy if any man is. 
I would give a hundred such houses as my new one to 
have a home like yours.' 

' Well — yes, we get along pretty comfortably,' replied 
Downe complacently. 

'That house, Downe, is none of my ordering,' 
Barnet broke out, revealing a bitterness hitherto sup- 
pressed, and checking the horse a moment to finish his 
speech before delivering up his passenger. 'The house 
I have already is good enough for me, as you supposed. 
It is my own freehold ; it was built by my grandfather, 
and is stout enough for a castle. My father was born 
there, lived there, and died there. I was born there, 
and have always lived there ; yet I must needs build a 
new one.' 

' Why do you ? ' said Downe. 

' Why do I ? To preserve peace in the household. 
I do anything for that; but I don't succeed. I was 

%IQ 



^. 



«-.- FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

firm in resisting " Chateau Ringdale," however ; not 
that I would not have put up with the absurdity of 
the name, but it was too much to have your house 
christened after Lord Ringdale, because your wife once 
had a fancy for him. If you only knew everything, 
you would think all attempt at reconciliation hopeless. 
In your happy home you have had no such experiences ; 
and God forbid that you ever should. See, here they 
are all ready to receive you ! ' 

' Of course ! And so will your wife be waiting to 
receive you,' said Downe. ' Take ray word for it she 
will! And with a dinner prepared for you far better 
than mine.' 

* I hope so,' Barnet replied dubiously. 

He moved on to Downe's door, which the solicitor's 
family had already opened. Downe descended, but 
being encumbered with his bag and umbrella, his foot 
slipped, and he fell upon his knees in the gutter. 

' O, my dear Charles ! ' said his wife, running down 
the steps ; and, quite ignoring the presence of Barnet, 
she seized hold of her husband, pulled him to his feet, 
and kissed him, exclaiming, ' I hope you are not hurt, 
darling ! ' The children crowded round, chiming in 
piteously, ' Poor papa 1 ' 

' He's all right,' said Barnet, perceiving that Downe 
was only a little muddy, and looking more at the wife 
than at the husband. Almost at any other time — 
certainly during his fastidious bachelor years — he would 
have thought her a too demonstrative woman; but 
those recent circumstances of his own life to which 
he had just alluded made Mrs. Downe's solicitude so 
affecting that his eye grew damp as he witnessed it 
Bidding the law7er and his family good-night he left 
them, and drove slowly into the main street towards 
his own house. 

The heart of Barnet was sufficiently impressionable 
to be influenced by Downe's parting prophecy that he 



WESSEX TALES 

might not be so unwelcome home as he imagined : the 
dreary night might, at least on this one occasion, make 
Downe's forecast true. Hence it was in a suspense 
that he could hardly have believed possible that he 
halted at his door. On entering his wife was nowhere 
to be seen, and he inquired for her. The servant in- 
formed him that her mistress had the dresShiaker with 
her, and would be engaged for some time. 

' Dressmaker at this time of day ! ' 

* She dined early, sir, and hopes you will excuse her 
joining you this evening.' 

' But she knew I was coming to-night ? ' 

' O yes, sir.' 

' Go up and tell her I am come.' 

The servant did so; but the mistress of the house 
merely transmitted her former words. 

Barnet said nothing more, and presently sat down 
to his lonely meal, which was eaten abstractedly, the 
domestic scene he had lately witnessed still impressing 
him by its contrast with the situation here. His mind 
fell back into past years upon a certain pleasing and 
gentle being whose face would loom out of their shades 
at such times as these. Barnet turned in his chair, 
and looked with unfocused eyes in a direction south- 
ward from where he sat, as if he saw not the room but 
a long way beyond. * I wonder if she lives there still i ' 
he said. 



i_' 



n 

rlE rose with a sudden rebelliousness, put on his 
hat and coat, and went out of the house, pursuing 
his way along the glistening pavement while eight 
o'clock was striking from St. Mary's tower, and the 
apprentices and shopmen were slamming up the shutters 
from end to end of the town. In two minutes only 
those shops which could boast of no attendant save the 
master or the mistress remained with open eyes. These 
were ever somewhat less prompt to exclude customers 
than the others : for their owners' ears the closing 
hour had scarcely the cheerfulness that it possessed 
for the hired servants of the rest. Yet the night being 
dreary the delay was not for long, and their windows, 
too, blinked together one by one. 

During this time Barnet had proceeded with decided 
step in a direction at right angles to the broad main 
thoroughfare of the town, by a long street leading due 
southward. Here, though his family had no more to 
do with the flax manufacture, his own name occasion- 
ally greeted him on gates and warehouses, being used 
allusively by small rising tradesmen as a recommenda- 
tion, in such words as • Smith, from Barnet & Co.' — 
'Robinson, late manager at Barnet's.' The sight led 
him to reflect upon his father's busy life, and he ques- 
tioned if it had not been far happier than his own. 

113 H 



Wessex tales 

The houses along the road became fewer, and pre- 
sently open ground appeared between them on eithei 
side, the track on the right hand rising to a higher level 
till it merged in a knoll. On the summit a row of 
builders' scafiTold-poles probed the indistinct sky like 
spears, and at their bases could be discerned the lower 
courses of a building lately begun. Barnet slackened 
his pace and stood for a few moments without leaving 
the centre of the road, apparently not much interested 
in the sight, till suddenly his eye w2is caught by a 
post in the fore part of the ground bearing a white 
board at the top. He went to the rails, vaulted over, 
and walked in far enough to discern painted upon the 
board ' Chateau Ringdale.' 

A dismal irony seemed to lie in the words, and its 
effect was to irritate him. Downe, then, had spoken 
truly. He stuck his umbrella into the sod, and seized 
the post with both hands, as if intending to loosen 
and throw it down. Then, like one bewildered by an 
opposition which would exist none the less though its 
manifestations were removed, he allowed his arms to 
sink to his side. 

'Let it be,' he said to himself. *I have declared 
there shall be peace — if possible.' 

Taking up his umbrella he quietly left the enclosure, 
and went on his way, still keeping his back to the town. 
He had advanced with more decision since passing the 
new building, and soon a hoarse murmur rose upon the 
gloom ; it was the sound of the sea. The road led to 
the harbour, at a distance of a mile from the town, 
from which the trade of the district was fed. After 
seeing the obnoxious name-board Barnet had forgotten 
to open his umbrella, and the rain tapped smartly on his 
hat, and occasionally stroked his face as he went on. 

Though the lamps were still continued at the road- 
side, they stood at wider intervals than before, and the 
pavement had given place to common road. Every 

IZA 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

time he came to a lamp an increasing shine made itself 
visible upon his shoulders, till at last they quite glistened 
with wet. The murmur from the shore grew stronger, 
but it was still some distance off when he paused before 
one of the smallest of the detached houses by the way- 
side, standing in its own garden, the latter being divided 
from the road by a row of wooden palings. Scrutinizing 
the spot to ensure that he was not mistaken, he opened 
the gate and gently knocked at the cottage door. 

When he had patiently waited minutes enough to 
lead any man in ordinary cases to knock again, the door 
was heard to open, though it was impossible to see by 
whose hand, there being no light in the passage. Barnet 
said at random, ' Does Miss Savile live here ? ' 

A youthful voice assured him that she did live there, 
and by a sudden afterthought asked him to come in. 
It would soon get a light, it said : but the night being 
wet, mother had not thought it worth while to trim the 
passage lamp. 

' Don't trouble yourself to get a light for me,' said 
Barnet hastily; 'it is not necessary at all. Which is 
Miss Savile's sitting-room ? ' 

The young person, whose white pinafore could just 
be discerned, signified a door in the side of the passage, 
and Barnet went forward at the same moment, so that 
no light should fall upon his face. On entering the 
room he closed the door behind him, pausing till he 
heard the retreating footsteps of the child. 

He found himself in an apartment which was simply 
and neatly, though not poorly furnished ; everjthing, 
from the miniature chiffonnier to the shining httle 
daguerreotype which formed the central ornament of 
the mantelpiece, being in scrupulous order. The picture 
was enclosed by a frame of embroidered card-board — 
evidently the work of feminine hands — and it was the 
portrait of a thin faced, elderly lieutenant in the navy. 
From behind the lamp on the table a female form now 

"5 



WESSEX TALES 

rose into view, that of a young girl, and a resemblance 
between her and the portrait was early discoverable. 
She had been so absorbed in some occupation on the 
other side of the lamp as to have barely found time to 
realize her visitor's presence. 

They both remained standing for a few seconds 
without speaking. The face that confronted Barnet 
had a beautiful outline; the Raffaelesque oval of its 
contour was remarkable for an EngUsh countenance, 
and that countenance housed in a remote country-road 
to an unheard-of harbour. But her features did not 
do justice to this splendid beginning : Nature had 
recollected that she was not in Italy; and the young 
lady's lineaments, though not so inconsistent as to 
make her plain, would have been accepted rather as 
pleasing than as correct. The preoccupied expression 
which, like images on the retina, remained with her 
for a moment after the state that caused it had ceased, 
now changed into a reserved, halfproud, and slightly 
indignant look, in which the blood diffused itself quickly 
across her cheek, and additional brightness broke the 
shade of her rather heavy eyes. 

' I know I have no business here,' he said, answer- 
ing the look. 'But I had a great wish to see you, 
and inquire how you were. You can give your hand 
to me, seeing how often I have held it in past 
days?' 

* I would rather forget than remember all that, Mr. 
Barnet,' she answered, as she coldly complied with the 
request. 'When I think of the circumstances of our 
last meeting, I can hardly consider it kind of you to 
allude to such a thing as our past — or, indeed, to come 
here at all.' 

' There was no harm in it surely ? I don't trouble 
you often, Lucy.' 

* I have not had the honour of a visit from you for 
a very long time, certainly, and I did not expect it 

ii6 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

now,' she said, with the same stiffness in her air. *1 
hope Mrs. Barnet is very well ? ' 

' Yes, yes ! ' he impatiently returned. ' At least I 
suppose so — though I only speak from inference ! ' 

'But she is your wife, sir,' said the young girl 
tremulously. 

The unwonted tones of a man's voice in that femi- 
nine chamber had startled a canary that was roosting in 
its cage by the window; the bird awoke hastily, and 
fluttered against the bars. She went and stilled it 
by laying her face against the cage and murmuring a 
coaxing sound. It might partly have been done to 
still herself. 

' I didn't come to talk of Mrs. Barnet,' he pursued ; 
' I came to talk of you, of yourself alone ; to inquire 
how you are getting on since your great loss.' And 
he turned towards the portrait of her father. 

* I am getting on fairly well, thank you.' 

The force of her utterance was scarcely borne out 
by her look; but Barnei courteously reproached him- 
self for not having guessed a thing so natural ; and to 
dissipate all embarrassment, added, as he bent over the 
table, 'What were you doing when I came? — painting 
flowers, and by candlelight ? ' 

' O no,' she said, ' not painting them — only sketching 
the outlines. I do that at night to save time — I have 
to get three dozen done by the end of the month.' 

Barnet looked as if he regretted it deeply. *You 
will wear your poor eyes out,' he said, with more senti- 
ment than he had hitherto shown. ' You ought not to 
do it. There was a time when I should have said you 
must not. Well — I almost wish I had never seen light 
with my own eyes when I think of that 1 ' 

' Is this a time or place for recalling such matters ? ' 
she asked, with dignity. 'You used to have a gentle- 
manly respect for me, and for yourself. Don't speak 
any more as you have spoken, and don't come again. 

117 



WESSEX TALES 

I cannot think that this visit is serious, or was closely 
considered by you.' 

' Considered : well, I came to see you as an old and 
good friend — not to mince matters, to visit a woman I 
loved. Don't be angry ! I could not help doing it, 
so many things brought you into my mind. . . . This 
evening I fell in with an acquaintance, and when I saw 
how happy he was with his wife and family welcoming 
him home, though with only one-tenth of my income 
and chances, and thought what might have been in my 
case, it fairly broke down my discretion, and off I came 
here. Now I am here I feel that I am wrong to some 
extent. But the feeling that I should like to see you, 
and talk of those we used to know in common, was 
very strong.' 

' Before that can be the case a little more time must 
pass,* said Miss Savile quietly; 'a time long enough 
for me to regard with some calmness what at present I 
remember far too impatiently — though it may be you 
almost forget it. Indeed you must have forgotten it 
long before you acted as you did.' Her voice grew 
stronger and more vivacious as she added : ' But I am 
doing my best to forget it too, and I know I shall 
succeed from the progress I have made already ! ' 

She had remained standing till now, when she turned 
and sat down, facing half away from him. 

Barnet watched her moodily. ' Yes, it is only what 
I deserve,' he said. 'Ambition pricked me on — no, 
it was not ambition, it was wrongheadedness ! Had I 
but reflected. . . .' He broke out vehemently : ' But 
always remember this, Lucy : if you had written to me 
only one little line after that misunderstanding, I declare 
I should have come back to you. That ruined me ! * 
he slowly walked as far as the little room would allow 
him to go, and remained with his eyes on the skirting. 

* But, Mr. Barnet, how could I write to you ? There 
was no opening for my doing so.' 

218 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

•Then there ought to have been,' said Barnet, turn- 
ing. ' That was my fault ! ' 

'Well, I don't know anything about that; but as 
there had been nothing said by me which required any 
explanation by letter, I did not send one. Everything 
was so indefinite, and feeling your position to be so 
much wealthier than mine, I fancied I might have 
mistaken your meaning. And when I heard of the 
other lady — a woman of whose family even you might 
be proud — I thought how foolish I had been, and said 
nothing.' 

* Then I suppose it was destiny — accident — I don't 
know what, that separated us, dear Lucy. Anyhow you 
were the woman I ought to have made my wife — and I 
let you slip, like the foolish man that I was ! ' 

♦O, Mr. Barnet,' she said, almost in tears, 'don't 
revive the subject to me ; I am the wrong one to con- 
sole you — think, sir, — you should not be here — it would 
be so bad for me if it were known ! ' 

' It would — it would, indeed,* he said hastily. • I 
am not right in doing this, and I won't do it again.' 

'It is a very common folly of human nature, you 
know, to think the course you did not adopt must have 
been the best,' she continued, with gentle solicitude, as 
she followed him to the door of the room. ' And you 
don't know that I should have accepted you, even if 
you had asked me to be your wife.' At this his eye 
met h^rs, and she dropped her gaze. She knew that 
her voice belied her. There was a silence till she 
looked up to add, in a voice of soothing playfulness, 
' My family was so much poorer than yours, even before 
I lost my dear father, that — perhaps your companions 
would have made it unpleasant for us on account of my 
deficiencies.' 

' Your disposition would soon have won them round,* 
said Barnet. 

She archly expostulated : ' Now, never mind my dis- 
I 119 



WESSEX TALES 

position ; try to make it up with your wife ! Those 
are my commands to you. And now you are to leave 
me at once.' 

' I will. I must make the best of it all, I suppose,' 
he replied, more cheerfully than he had as yet spoken. 
' But I shall never again meet with such a dear girl as 
you ! ' And he suddenly opened the door, and left her 
alone. \Vhen his glance again fell on the lamps that 
were sparsely ranged along the dreary level road, his 
eyes were in a state which showed straw-hke motes of 
light radiating from each flame into the surrounding air. 

On the other side of the way Barnet observed a 
man under an umbrella, walking parallel with himself. 
Presently this man left the footway, and gradually con- 
verged on Barnet's course. The latter then saw that 
it was Charlson, a surgeon of the town, who owed him 
money. Charlson was a man not without ability ; yet 
he did not prosper. Sundry circumstances stood in his 
way as a medical practitioner : he was needy ; he was 
not a coddle; he gossiped with men instead of with 
women; he had married a stranger instead of one of 
the town young ladies ; and he was given to conver- 
sational buffoonery. Moreover, his look was quite 
erroneous. Those only proper features in the family 
doctor, the quiet eye, and the thin straight passionless 
lips which never curl in public either for laughter or 
for scorn, were not his ; he had a full-curved mouth, 
and a bold black eye that made timid people nervous. 
His companions were what in old times would have 
been called boon companions — an expression which, 
though of irreproachable root, suggests fraternization 
carried to the point of unscrupulousness. All this was 
against him in the little town of his adoption. 

Charlson had been in difficulties, and to oblige him 
Barnet had put his name to a bill; and, as he had 
expected, was called upon to meet it when it fell due. 
It had been only a matter of fifty pounds, which Barnet 

I20 



iS FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

could well afford to lose, and he bore no ill-will to the 
thriftless surgeon on account of it. But Charlson had 
a little too much brazen indifferentism in his composi- 
tion to be altogether a desirable acquaintance. 

* I hope to be able to make that Utile bill-business 
right with you in the course of three weeks, Mr. Barnet,' 
said Charlson with hail-fellow friendhness. 

Barnet replied good-naturedly that there was no hurry. 

This particular three weeks had moved on in advance 
of Charlson's present with the precision of a shadow for 
some considerable time. 

' I've had a dream,' Charlson continued. Barnet 
knew from his tone that the surgeon was going to begin 
his characteristic nonsense, and did not encourage him. 
' I've had a dream,' repeated Charlson, who required 
no encouragement. ' I dreamed that a gentleman, who 
has been very kind to me, married a haughty lady in 
haste, before he had quite forgotten a nice little girl he 
knew before, and that one wet evening, like the present, 
as I was walking up the harbour-road, I saw him come 
out of that dear little girl's present abode.' 

Barnet glanced towards the speaker. The rays from 
a neighbouring lamp struck through the drizzle under 
Charlson's umbrella, so as just to illumine his face 
against the shade behind, and show that his eye was 
turned up under the outer corner of its lid, whence it 
leered with impish jocoseness as he thrust his tongue 
into his cheek. 

•Come,' said Barnet gravely, * we'll have no more 
of that.' 

' No, no — of course not,' Charlson hastily answered, 
seeing that his humour had carried him too far, as it 
had done many times before. He was profuse in his 
apologies, but Barnet did not reply. Of one thing 
he was certain — that scandal was a plant of quick root, 
and that he was bound to obey Lucy's injunction for 
Lucy's own sake. 

121 



Ill 

He did so, to the letter; and though, as the crof.us 

followed the snowdrop and the daffodil the crocus in 
Lucy's garden, the harbour-road was a not unpleasant 
place to walk in, Barnet's feet never trod its stones, 
much less approached her door. He avoided a saunter 
that way as he would have avoided a dangerous dram, 
and took his airings a long distance northward, among 
severely square and brown ploughed fields, where no 
other townsman came. Sometimes he went round by 
the lower lanes of the borough, where the rope-walks 
stretched in which his family formerly had share, and 
looked at the rope- makers walking backwards, overhung 
by apple-trees and bushes, and intruded on by cows 
and calves, as if trade had estabhshed itself there at 
considerable inconvenience to Nature. 

One morning, when the sun was so warm as to 
raise a steam from the south-eastern slopes of those 
flanking hills that looked so lovely above the old roofs, 
but made every low-chimneyed house in the town as 
smoky as Tophet, Barnet glanced from the windows of 
the town-council room for lack of interest in what was 
proceeding within. Several members of the corporation 
were present, but there was not much business doing, 
and in a few minutes Downe came leisurely across to 
him, saying that he seldom saw Barnet now. 

122 



5_- FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

Barnet owned that he was not often present. 

Downe looked at the crimson curtain which hung 
down beside the panes, reflecting its hot hues into their 
faces, and then out of the window. At that moment 
there passed along the street a tall commanding lady, 
in whom the solicitor recognized Barnet's wife. Barnet 
had done the same thing, and turned away. 

' It will be all right some day,' said Downe, with 
cheering sympathy. 

* You have heard, then, of her last outbreak ? ' 
Downe depressed his cheerfulness to its very reverse 

in a moment. ' No, I have not heard of anything 
serious,' he said, with as long a face as one naturally 
round could be turned into at short notice. ' I only 
hear vague reports of such things.' 

'You may think it will be all right,' said Barnet 
drily. ' But I have a different opinion. . . . No, 
Downe, we must look the thing in the face. Not 
poppy nor mandragora — however, how are your wife 
and children?' 

Downe said that they were all well, thanks ; they 
were out that morning somewhere ; he was just looking 
to see if they were walking that way. Ah, there they 
were, just coming down the street ; and Downe pointed 
to the figures of two children with a nursemaid, and a 
lady walking behind them. 

* You will come out and speak to her ? ' he asked. 

* Not this morning. The fact is I don't care to 
speak to anybody just now.' 

'You are too sensitive, Mr. Barnet. At school I 
remember you used to get as red as a rose if anybody 
uttered a word that hurt your feelings.' 

Barnet mused. ' Yes,' he admitted, ' there is a grain 
of truth in that. It is because of that I often try to 
make peace at home. Life would be tolerable then at 
any rate, even if not particularly bright.' 

* I have thought more than once of proposing a little 

123 



WESSEX TALES 

plan to you,' said Downe with some hesitation. ' I 
don't know whether it will meet your views, but take 
it or leave it, as you choose. In fact, it was my wife 
who suggested it : that she would be very glad to call 
on Mrs. Barnet and get into her confidence. She seems 
to think that Mrs. Barnet is rather alone in the town, 
and without advisers. Her impression is that your 
wife will listen to reason. Emily has a wonderful way 
of winning the hearts of people of her own sex.' 

* And of the other sex too, I think. , She is a charm- 
ing woman, and you were a lucky fellow to find her.' 

'Well, perhaps I was,' simpered Downe, trying to 
wear an aspect of being the last man in the world to 
feel pride. ' However, she will be likely to find out 
what ruffles Mrs. Barnet Perhaps it is some mis- 
understanding, you know — something that she is too 
proud to ask you to explain, or some little thing in 
your conduct that irritates her because she does not 
fully comprehend you. The truth is, Emily would have 
been more ready to make advances if she had been 
quite sure of her fitness for Mrs. Barnet's society, who 
has of course been accustomed to London people of 
good position, which made Emily fearful of intruding.' 

Barnet expressed his warmest thanks for the well- 
intentioned proposition. There was reason in Mrs. 
Downe's fear — that he owned. * But do let her call,' 
he said. 'There is no woman in England I would so 
soon trust on such an errand. I am afraid there will 
not be any brilliant result ; still I shall take it as the 
kindest and nicest thing if she will try it, and not be 
frightened at a repulse.' 

When Barnet and Downe had parted, the former 
went to the Town Savings-Bank, of which he was a 
trustee, and endeavoured to forget his troubles in the 
contemplation of low sums of money, and figures in a 
network of red and blue lines. He sat and watched 
the working-people making their deposits, to which at 

124 



i-^' FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

intervals he signed his name. Before he left in the 
afternoon Downe put his head inside the door.^ 

'Emily has seen Mrs. Barnet/ he said, in a low 
voice. 'She has got Mrs. Barnet's promise to take 
her for a drive down to the shore to-morrow, if it is 
fine. Good afternoon ! ' 

Barnet shook Downe by the hand without speaking, 
and Downe went away. 



IV 

1 HE next day was as fine as the arrangement could 

possibly require. As the sun passed the meridian and 
declined westward, the tall shadows from the scaffold- 
poles of Barnet's rising residence streaked the ground 
as far as to the middle of the highway. Barnet him- 
self was there inspecting the progress of the works for 
the first time during several weeks. A building in an 
old-fashioned town five-and-thirty years ago did not, as 
in the modern fashion, rise from the sod like a booth 
at a fair. The foundations and lower courses were put 
in and allowed to settle for many weeks before the 
superstructure was built up, and a whole summer of 
drying was hardly sufficient to do justice to the impor- 
tant issues involved. Barnet stood within a window- 
niche which had as yet received no frame, and thence 
looked down a slope into the road. The wheels of a 
chaise were heard, and then his handsome Xantippe, 
in the company of Mrs. Downe, drove past on their 
way to the shore. They were driving slowly; there 
was a pleasing light in Mrs. Downe's face, which 
seemed faintly to reflect itself upon the countenance 
of her companion — that politesse du cxur which was so 
natural to her having possibly begun already to work 
results. But whatever the situation, Barnet resolved 
not to interfere, or do anything to hazard 'he promise of 

126 



*-• FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

the day. He might well afford to trust the issue to 
another when he could never direct it but to ill himself. 
His wife's clenched rein-hand in its lemon-coloured 
glove, her stiff erect figure, clad in velvet and lace, 
and her boldly-outhned face, passed on, exhibiting their 
owner as one fixed for ever above the level of her com- 
panion — socially by her early breeding, and materially 
by her higher cushion. 

Barnet decided to allow them a proper time to them- 
selves, and then stroll down to the shore and drive them 
home. After lingering on at the house for another hour 
he started with this intention. A few hundred yards 
below 'Chateau Ringdale' stood the cottage in which 
the late lieutenant's daughter had her lodging. Barnet 
had not been so far that way for a long time, and as 
he approached the forbidden ground a curious warmth 
passed into him, which led him to perceive that, unless 
he were careful, he might have to fight the battle with 
himself about Lucy over again. A tenth of his present 
excuse would, however, have justified him in travelling 
by that road to-day. 

He came opposite the dwelling, and turned his eyes 
for a momentary glance into the little garden that 
stretched from the palings to the door. Lucy was in 
the enclosure ; she was walking and stooping to gather 
some flowers, possibly for the purpose of painting them, 
for she moved about quickly, as if anxious to save time. 
She did not see him ; he might have passed unnoticed ; 
but a sensation which was not in strict unison with his 
previous sentiments that day led him to pause in his 
walk and watch her. She went nimbly round and 
round the beds of anemones, tulips, jonquils, polyan- 
thuses, and other old-fashioned flowers, looking a very 
charming figure in her half-mourning bonnet, and with 
an incomplete nosegay in her left hand. Raising herself 
to pull down a lilac blossom she observed him. 

* Mr. Barnet 1 ' she said, innocently smiling. ' Why, I 

127 



WESSEX TALES 

have been thinking of you many times since Mrs. Barnet 
went by in the pony-carriage, and now here you are ! ' 

* Yes, Lucy,' he said. 

Then she seemed to recall particulars of their last jl 

meeting, and he believed that she flushed, though it 
might have been only the fancy of his own super- 
sensitivenesss. 

* I am going to the harbour,' he added, , 

* Are you ? ' Lucy remarked simply. ' A great many 
people begin to go there now the summer is draw- 
ing on.' 

Her face had come more into his view as she spoke, 
and he noticed how much thinner and paler it was than 
when he had seen it last. ' Lucy, how weary you look ! 
tell me, can I help you ? ' he was going to cry out. — 
• If I do,' he thought, * it will be the ruin of us both ! ' 
He merely said that the afternoon was fine, and went 
on his way. 

As he went a sudden blast of air came over the 
hill as if in contradiction to his words, and spoilt the 
previous quiet of the scene. The wind had already 
shifted violently, and now smelt of the sea. 

The harbour-road soon began to justify its name. 
A gap appeared in the rampart of hills which shut out 
the sea, and on the left of the opening rose a vertical 
cliff, coloured a burning orange by the sunlight, the 
companion cliff on the right being livid in shade. Be- 
tween these cliffs, like the Libyan bay which sheltered 
the shipwrecked Trojans, was a little haven, seemingly 
a beginning made by Nature herself of a perfect harbour, 
which appealed to the passer-by as only requiring a little 
human industry to finish it and make it famous, the 
ground on each side as far back as the daisied slopes 
that bounded the interior valley being a mere layer 
of blown sand. But the Port-Bredy burgesses a mile 
inland had, in the course of ten centuries, responded 
many times to that mute appeal, with the result that 

123 



i^' FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

the tides had invariably choked up their works with 
sand and shingle as soon as completed. There were 
but few houses here : a rough pier, a few boats, some 
stores, an inn, a residence or two, a ketch unloading in 
the harbour, were the chief features of the settlement. 
On the open ground by the shore stood his wife's 
pony-carriage, empty, the boy in attendance holding the 
horse. 

When Barnet drew nearer, he saw an indigo-coloured 
spot moving swiftly along beneath the radiant base of 
the eastern cliff, which proved to be a man in a jersey, 
running with all his might. He held up his hand to 
Barnet, as it seemed, and they approached each other. 
The man was local, but a stranger to him. 

' What is it, my man ? ' said Barnet. 

' A terrible calamity ! ' the boatman hastily explained. 
Two ladies had been capsized in a boat — they were 
Mrs. Downe and Mrs. Barnet of the old town ; they 
had diiven down there that afternoon — they had alighted, 
and it was so fine, that, after walking about a little while, 
they had been tempted to go out for a short sail round 
the cliff. Just as they were putting in to the shore, the 
wind shifted with a sudden gust, the boat listed over, 
and it was thought they were both drowned. How it 
could have happened was beyond his mind to fathom, 
for John Green knew how to sail a boat as well as any 
man there. 

' Which is the way to the place ? ' said Barnet. 

It was just round the cliff. 

* Run to the carriage and tell the boy to bring it 
to the place as soon as you can. Then go to the 
Harbour Inn and tell them to ride to town for a doctor. 
Have they been got out of the water ? ' 

' One lady has.' 

* Which ? ' 

' Mrs. Barnet Mrs. Downe, it is feared, has fleeted 
out to sea.' 

1^9 1 



WESSEX TALES 

Barnet ran on to that part of the shore which the 
cliff had hitherto obscured from his view, and there 
discerned, a long way ahead, a group of fishermen 
standing. As soon as he came up one or two recog- 
nized him, and, not liking to meet his eye, turned aside 
with misgiving. He went amidst them and saw a small 
sailing-boat lying draggled at the water's edge ; and, on 
the sloping shingle beside it, a soaked and sandy 
woman's form in the velvet dress and yellow gloves of 
his wife. 



All had been done that could be done. Mrs. 
Barnet was in her own house under medical hands, but 
the result was still uncertain. Barnet had acted as if 
devotion to his wife were the dominant passion of his 
existence. There had been much to decide — whether 
to attempt restoration of the apparently Ufeless body 
as it lay on the shore — whether to carry her to the 
Harbour Inn — whether to drive with her at once to 
his own house. The first course, with no skilled help 
or appliances near at hand, had seemed hopeless. The 
second course would have occupied nearly as much 
time as a drive to the town, owing to the intervening 
ridges of shingle, and the necessity of crossing the 
harbour by boat to get to the house, added to which 
much time must have elapsed before a doctor could 
have arrived down there. By bringing her home in the 
carriage some precious moments had slipped by; but 
she had been laid in her own bed in seven minutes, a 
doctor called to her side, and every possible restorative 
brought to bear upon her. 

At what a tearing pace he had driven up that 
road, through the yellow evening sunlight, the shadows 
flapping irksomely into his eyes as each wayside object 
rushed past between him and the west ! Tired work- 
men with their baskets at their backs had turned on 

»3i 



WESSEX TALES 

their homeward journey to wonder at his speed. Half- 
way between the shore and Port-Bredy town he had met 
Charlson, who had been the first surgeon to hear of the 
accident. He was accompanied by his assistant in a 
gig. Barnet had sent on the latter to the coast in case 
that Downe's poor wife should by that time have been 
reclaimed from the waves, and had brought Charlson 
back with him to the house. 

Barnet's presence was not needed here, and he felt 
it to be his next duty to set off at once and find Downe, 
that no other than himself might break the news to 
him. 

He was quite sure that no chance had been lost for 
Mrs, Downe by his leaving the shore. By the time 
that Mrs. Barnet had been laid in the carriage, a much 
larger group had assembled to lend assistance in finding 
her friend, rendering his own help superfluous. But 
the duty of breaking the news was made doubly painful 
by the circumstance that the catastrophe which had 
befallen Mrs. Downe was solely the result of her own 
and her husband's loving-kindness towards himself. 

He found Downe in his office. When the solicitor 
comprehended the intelligence he turned pale, stood 
up, and remained for a moment perfectly still, as if 
bereft of his faculties; then his shoulders heaved, he 
pulled out his handkerchief and began to cry like a 
child. His sobs mjght have been heard in the next 
room. He seemed to have no idea of going to the 
shore, or of doing anything ; but when Barnet took him 
gently by the hand and proposed to start at once, he 
quietly acquiesced, neither uttering any further word 
nor making any effort to repress his tears. 

Barnet accompanied him to the shore, where, finding 
that no trace had as yet been seen of Mrs. Downe, and 
that his stay would be of no avail, he left Downe with 
his friends and the young doctor, and once more 
hastened back to his own house. 

132 



5_: FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

At the door he met Charlson. ' Well ! ' Barnet said. 

' I have just come down,' said the doctor ; ' we have 
done everything, but without result. I sympathize with 
you in your bereavement.' 

Barnet did not much appreciate Charlson's sympathy, 
which sounded to his ears as something of a mockery 
from the lips of a man who knew what Charlson knew 
about their domestic relations. Indeed there seemed 
an odd spark in Charlson's full black eye as he said 
the words ; but that might have been imaginary. 

' And, Mr. Barnet,' Charlson resumed, ' that httle 
matter between us — I hope to settle it finally in three 
weeks at least.' 

'Never mind that now,' said Barnet abruptly. He 
directed the surgeon to go to the harbour in case his 
services might even now be necessary there : and him- 
self entered the house. 

The servants were coming from his wife's chamber, 
looking helplessly at each other and at him. He 
passed them by and entered the room, where he stood 
mutely regarding the bed for a few minutes, after 
which he walked into his own dressing-room adjoining, 
and there paced up and down. In a minute or two 
he noticed what a strange and total silence had come 
over the upper part of the house ; his own movements, 
muffled as they were by the carpet, seemed noisy, and 
his thoughts to disturb the air like articulate utterances. 
His eye glanced through the window. Far down the 
road to the harbour a roof detained his gaze : out of 
it rose a red chimney, and out of the red chimney a 
curl of smoke, as from a fire newly kindled. He had 
often seen such a sight before. In that house lived 
Lucy Savile; and the smoke was from the fire which 
was regularly lighted at this time to make her tea. 

After that he went back to the bedroom, and stood 
there some time regarding his wife's silent form. She 
was a woman some years older than himself, but had 

133 



WESSEX TALES 

not by any means overpassed the maturity of good 
looks and vigour. Her passionate features, well-defined, 
firm, and statuesque in life, were doubly so now : her 
mouth and brow, beneath her purplish black hair, 
showed only too clearly that the turbulency of character 
which had made a bear-garden of his house had been 
no temporary phase of her existence. While he re- 
flected, he suddenly said to himself, I wonder if all 
has been done? 

The thought was led up to by his having fancied 
that his wife's features lacked in its complete form the 
expression which he had been accustomed to associate 
with the faces of those whose spirits have fled for ever. 
The effacement of life was not so marked but that, 
entering uninformed, he might have supposed her sleep- 
ing. Her complexion was that seen in the numerous 
faded portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds; it was pallid 
in comparison with life, but there was visible on a close 
inspection the remnant of what had once been a flush ; 
the keeping between the cheeks and the hollows of the 
face being thus preserved, although positive colour was 
gone. Long orange rays of evening sun stole in through 
chinks in the blind, striking on the large mirror, and 
being thence reflected upon the crimson hangings and 
woodwork of the heavy bedstead, so that the general 
tone of light was remarkably warm; and it was pro- 
bable that something might be due to this circumstance. 
Still the fact impressed him as strange. Charlson had 
been gone more than a quarter of an hour : could it be 
possible that he had left too soon, and that his attempts 
to restore her had operated so sluggishly as only now to 
have made themselves felt ? Barnet laid his hand upon 
her chest, and fancied that ever and anon a faint flutter 
of palpitation, gentle as that of a butterfly's wing, 
disturbed the stillness there — ceasing for a time, then 
struggling to go on, then breaking down in weakness 
and ceasing again. 

'34 



*--' FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

Barnet's mother had been an active practitioner of 
the healing art among her poorer neighbours, and her 
inspirations had all been derived from an octavo volume 
of Domestic Medicine, which at this moment was lying, 
as it had lain for many years, on a shelf in Barnet's 
dressing-room. He hastily fetched it, and there read 
under the head • Drowning : ' — 

'Exertions for the recovery of any person who has not been 
immersed for a longer period than half-an-hour should be continued 
for at least four hours, as there have been many cases in which 
returning life has made itself visible even after a longer interval. 

' Should, however, a weak action of any of the organs show itself 
when the case seems almost hopeless, our efforts must be redoubled ; 
the feeble spark in this case requires to be solicited ; it will certainly 
disappear imder a relaxation of labour.* 

Barnet looked at his watch ; it was now barely two 
hours and a half from the time when he had first heard 
of the accident. He threw aside the book and turned 
quickly to reach a stimulant which had previously been 
used. Pulling up the blind for more light, his eye 
glanced out of the window. There he saw that red 
chimney still smoking cheerily, and that roof, and 
through the roof that somebody. His mechanical 
movements stopped, his hand remained on the blind- 
cord, and he seemed to become breathless, as if he had 
suddenly found himself treading a high rope. 

While he stood a sparrow lighted on the window- 
sill, saw him, and flew away. Next a man and a dog 
walked over one of the green hills which bulged above 
the roofs of the town. But Barnet took no notice. 

We may wonder what were the exact images that 
passed through his mind during those minutes of gazing 
upon Lucy Savile's house, the sparrow, the man and 
the dog, and Lucy Savile's house again. There are 
honest men who will not admit to their thoughts, even 
as idle hypr)theses, views of the future that assume as 



WESSEX TALES 

done a deed which they would recoil from doing ; and 
there are other honest men for whom moraUty ends at 
the surface of their own heads, who will deliberate 
what the first will not so much as suppose. Barnet 
had a wife whose presejice distracted his home ; she 
now lay as in death; by merely doing nothing — by 
letting the intelligence which had gone forth to the 
world lie undisturbed — he would effect such a deliver- 
ance for himself as he had never hoped for, and open 
up an opportunity of which till now he had never 
dreamed. Whether the conjuncture had arisen through 
any unscrupulous, ill-considered impulse of Charlson to 
help out of a strait the friend who was so kind as never 
to press him for what was due could not be told ; 
there was nothing to prove it ; and it was a question 
which could never be asked. The triangular situation 
— himself — his wife — Lucy Savile — was the one clear 
thing. 

From Barnet's actions we may infer that he supposed 
such and such a result, for a moment, but did not 
deliberate. He withdrew his hazel eyes from the scene 
without, calmly turned, rang the bell for assistance, 
and vigorously exerted himself to learn if life still 
lingered in that motionless frame. In a short time 
another surgeon was in attendance ; and then Barnet's 
surmise proved to be true. The slow life timidly 
heaved again ; but much care and patience were needed 
to catch and retain it, and a considerable period elapsed 
before it could be said with certainty that Mrs. Barnet 
lived. When this was the case, and there was no 
further room for doubt, Barnet left the chamber. The 
blue evening smoke from Lucy's chimney had died 
down to an imperceptible stream, and as he walked 
about downstairs he murmured to himself, ' My wife 
was dead, and she is alive again.' 

It was not so with Downe. After three hours' 
immersion his wife's body had been recovered, life, of 

136 



i^' FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

course, being quite extinct. Barnet on descending, 
went straight to his friend's house, and there learned 
the result. Downe was helpless in his wild grief, 
occasionally even hysterical. Barnet said little, but 
finding that some guiding hand was necessary in the 
sorrow-stricken household, took upon him to supervise 
and manage till Downe should be in a state of mind to 
do so for himself, 



VI 

vJnE September evening, four months later, when Mrs. 
Barnet was in perfect health, and Mrs. Downe but a 
weakening memory, an errand-boy paused to rest him- 
self in front of Mr. Barnet's old house, depositing his 
basket on one of the window-sills. The street was not 
yet lighted, but there were lights in the house, and at 
intervals a flitting shadow fell upon the blind at his 
elbow. Words also were audible from the same apart- 
ment, and they seemed to be those of persons in violent 
altercation. But the boy could not gather their purport, 
and he went on his way. 

Ten minutes afterwards the door of Barnet's house 
opened, and a tall closely- veiled lady in a travelling-dress 
came out and descended the freestone steps. The 
servant stood in the doorway watching her as she 
went with a measured tread down the street. When 
she had been out of sight for some minutes Barnet 
appeared at the door from within. 

' Did your mistress leave word where she was 
going?* he asked. 

' No, sir.' 

' Is the carriage ordered to meet her anywhere ? * 

*No, sir.' 

* Did she take a latch-key ? ' 

• No, sir.' 

138 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

Barnet went in again, sat down in his chair, and 
leaned back. Then in solitude and silence he brooded 
over the bitter emotions that filled his heart. It was 
for this that he had gratuitously restored her to life, 
and made his union with another impossible 1 The 
evening drew on, and nobody came to disturb him. At 
bedtime he told the servants to retire, that he would 
sit up for Mrs. Barnet himself; and when they were 
gone he leaned his head upon his hand and mused 
for hours. 

The clock struck one, two; still his wife came not, 
and, with impatience added to depression, he went from 
room to room till another weary hour had passed. This 
was not altogether a new experience for Barnet ; but she 
had never before so prolonged her absence. At last he 
sat down again and fell asleep. 

He awoke at six o'clock to find that she had not 
returned. In searching about the rooms he discovered 
that she had taken a case of jewels which had been hers 
before her marriage. At eight a note was brought him ; 
it was from his wife, in which she stated that she had 
gone by the coach to the house of a distant relative near 
London, and expressed a wish that certain boxes, articles 
of clothing, and so on, might be sent to her forthwith. 
The note was brought to him by a waiter at the Black- 
Bull Hotel, and had been written by Mrs. Barnet imme- 
diately before she took her place in the stage. 

By the evening this order was carried out, and 
Barnet, with a sense of relief, walked out into the 
town. A fair had been held during the day, and the 
large clear moon which rose over the most prominent 
hill flung its light upon the booths and standings that 
still remained in the street, mixing its rays curiously 
with those from the flaring naphtha lamps. The town 
was full of country-people who had come in to enjoy 
themselves, and on this account Barnet strolled through 
the streets unobserved. With a certain recklessness he 

X39 



WESSEX TALES 

made for the harbour-road, and presently found himself 
by the shore, where he walked on till he came to the 
spot near which his friend the kindly Mrs. Downe had 
lost her life, and his own wife's life had been preserved. 
A tremulous pathway of bright moonshine now stretched 
over the water which had engulfed them, and not a 
living soul was near. 

Here he ruminated on their characters, and next on 
the young girl in whom he now took a more sensitive 
interest than at the time when he had been free to 
marry her. Nothing, so far as he was aware, had ever 
appeared in his own conduct to show that such an 
interest existed. He had made it a point of the utmost 
strictness to hinder that feeling from influencing in the 
faintest degree his attitude towards his wife; and this 
was made all the more easy for him by the small 
demand Mrs. Barnet made upon his attentions, for 
which she ever evinced the greatest contempt ; thus 
unwittingly giving him the satisfaction of knowing that 
their severance owed nothing to jealousy, or, indeed, 
to any personal behaviour of his at all. Her concern 
was not with him or his feelings, as she frequently told 
him; but that she had, in a moment of weakness, 
thrown herself away upon a common burgher when she 
might have aimed at, and possibly brought down, a peer 
of the realm. Her frequent depreciation of Barnet in 
these terms had at times been so intense that he was 
sorely tempted to retaliate on her egotism by owning that 
he loved at the same low level on which he lived ; but 
prudence had prevailed, for which he was now thankful. 

Something seemed to sound upon the shingle behind 
him over and above the raking of the wave. He looked 
round, and a slight girlish shape appeared quite close to 
him. He could not see her face because it was in the 
direction of the moon. 

' Mr. Barnet ? ' the rambler said, in timid surprise. 
The voice was the voice of Lucy Savile. 

140 



1-,- 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 



' Yes,' said Barnet. ' How can I repay you for this 
pleasure ? ' 

* I only came because the night was so clear. I am 
now on my way home.' 

'I am glad we have met. I want to know if you 
will let me do something for you, to give me an occupa- 
tion, as an idle man ? I am sure I ought to help you, 
for I know you are almost without friends.' 

She hesitated. 'Why should you tell me that?' 
she said. 

' In the hope that you will be frank with me.' 

' I am not altogether without friends here. But I 
am going to make a little change in my life — to go out 
as a teacher of freehand drawing and practical perspec- 
tive, of course I mean on a comparatively humble scale, 
because I have not been specially educated for that 
profession. But I am sure I shall like it much.' 

' You have an opening ? ' 

«I have not exactly got it, but I have advertised 
for one.' 

' Lucy, you must let me help you ! ' 

' Not at all.' 

' You need not think it would compromise you, or 
that I am indifferent to delicacy. I bear in mind how 
we stand. It is very unlikely that you will succeed as 
teacher of the class you mention, so let me do some- 
thing of a different kind for you. Say what you would 
like, and it shall be done.' 

' No ; if I can't be a drawing-mistress or governess, 
or something of that sort, I shall go to India and join 
my brother.' 

' * I wish I could go abroad, anywhere, everywhere 
with you, Lucy, and leave this place and its associations 
for ever ! ' 

She played with the end of her bonnet-string, and 
hastily turned aside. ' Don't ever touch upon that kind 
of topic again,' she said, with a quick severity not free 

141 



WESSEX TALES 

from anger. * It simply makes it impossible for me to 
see you, much less receive any guidance from you. No, 
thank you, Mr. Barnet ; you can do nothing for me at 
present; and as I suppose my uncertainty will end in 
my leaving for India, I fear you never will. If ever I 
think you can do anything, I will take the trouble to ask 
you. Till then, good-bye.' 

The tone of her latter words was equivocal, and 
while he remained in doubt whether a gentle irony was 
or was not inwrought with their sound, she swept lightly 
round and left him alone. He saw her form get smaller 
and smaller along the damp belt of sea-sand between 
ebb and flood ; and when she had vanished round the 
cliff into the harbour-road, he himself followed in the 
same direction. 

That her hopes from an advertisement should be the 
single thread which held Lucy Savile in England was 
too much for Barnet. On reaching the town he went 
straight to the residence of Downe, now a widower with 
four children. The young motherless brood had been 
sent to bed about a quarter of an hour earlier, and when 
Barnet entered he found Downe sitting alone. It was 
the same room as that from which the family had been 
looking out for Downe at the beginning of the year, 
when Downe had slipped into the gutter and his wife 
had been so enviably tender towards him. The old 
neatness had gone from the house; articles lay in places 
which could show no reason for their presence, as if 
momentarily deposited there some months ago, and 
forgotten ever since ; there were no flowers ; things 
were jumbled together on the furniture which should 
have been in cupboards; and the place in general had 
that stagnant, unrenovated air which usually pervades 
the maimed home of the widower. 

Downe soon renewed his customary full-worded 
lament over his wife, and even when he had worked 
himself up to tears, went on volubly, as if a listener 

14a 



iJ^. FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

W2re a luxury to be enjoyed whenever he could be 
caught, 

'She was a treasure beyond compare, Mr. Barnet! 
I shall never see such another. Nobody now to nurse 
me — nobody to console me in those daily troubles, you 
know, Barnet, which make consolation so necessary to 
a nature like mine. It would be unbecoming to re- 
pine, for her spirit's home was elsewhere — the tender 
light in her eyes always showed it; but it is a long 
dreary time that I have before me, and nobody else 
can ever fill the void left in my heart by her loss — 
nobody — nobody ! ' And Downe wiped his eyes again. 

* She was a good woman in the highest sense,' 
gravely answered Barnet, who, though Downe's words 
drew genuine compassion from his heart, could not 
help feeling that a tender reticence would have been a 
finer tribute to Mrs. Downe's really sterling virtues than 
such a second-class lament as this. 

•I have something to show you,' Downe resumed, 
producing from a drawer a sheet of paper on which 
was an elaborate design for a canopied tomb. 'This 
has been sent me by the architect, but it is not exactly 
what I want.' 

' You have got Jones to do it, I see, the man who is 
carrying out my house,' said Barnet, as he glanced at 
the signature to the drawing. 

' Yes, but it is not quite what I want. I want some- 
thing more striking — more like a tomb I have seen in 
St. Paul's Cathedral. Nothing less will do justice to my 
feelings, and how far short of them that will fall ! ' 

Barnet privately thought the design a sufficiently 
imposing one as it stood, even extravagantly ornate; 
but, feeling that he had no right to criticize, he said 
gently, • Downe, should you not live more in your 
children's lives at the present time, and soften the 
sharpness of regret for your own past by thinking of 
their future?' 

U3 



WESSEX TALES 

* Yes, yes ; but what can I do more ? ' asked Downe, 
wrinkling his forehead hopelessly. 

It was with anxious slowness that Barnet produced 
his reply — the secret object of his visit to-night. ' Did 
you not say one day that you ought by rights to get a 
governess for the children ? * 

Downe admitted that he had said so, but that he 
could not see his way to it. ' The kind of woman I 
should like to have,' he said, ' would be rather beyond 
my means. No ; I think I shall send them to school 
in the town when they are old enough to go out alone.' 

• Now, I know of something better than that. The 
late Lieutenant Savile's daughter, Lucy, wants to do 
something for herself in the way of teaching. She 
would be inexpensive, and would answer your purpose 
as well as anybody for six or twelve months. She 
would probably come daily if you were to ask her, and 
so your housekeeping arrangements would not be much 
affected.* 

' I thought she had gone away,' said the solicitor, 
musing. * Where does she live ? ' 

Barnet told him, and added that, if Downe should 
think of her as suitable, he would do well to call as 
soon as possible, or she might be on the wing. ' If you 
do see her,' he said, ' it would be advisable not to men- 
tion my name. She is rather stiff in her ideas of me, 
and it might prejudice her against a course if she knew 
that I recommended it.' 

Downe promised to give the subject his considera- 
tion, and nothing more was said about it just then. 
But when Barnet rose to go, which was not till nearly 
bedtime, he reminded Downe of the suggestion and 
went up the street to his own solitary home with a 
sense of satisfaction at his promising diplomacy in a 
charitable cause. 



VII 

The walls of his new house were carried up nearly 
to their full height. By a curious though not infre- 
quent reaction, Barnet's feelings about that unnecessary 
structure had undergone a change ; he took considerable 
interest in its progress as a long-neglected thing, his 
wife before her departure having grown quite weary of 
it as a hobby. Moreover, it was an excellent distraction 
for a man in the unhappy position of having to live in 
a provincial town with nothing to do. He was pro- 
bably the first of his line who had ever passed a day 
without toil, and perhaps something like an inherited 
instinct disqualifies such men for a life of pleasant in- 
action, such as lies in the power of those whose leisure 
is not a personal accident, but a vast historical accretion 
which has become part of their natures. 

Thus Barnet got into a way of spending many of 
his leisure hours on the site of the new building, and he 
might have been seen on most days at this time trying 
the temper of the mortar by punching the joints with his 
stick, looking at the grain of a floor-board, and meditat- 
ing where it grew, or picturing under what circumstances 
the last fire would be kindled in the at present sootless 
chimneys. One day when thus occupied he saw three 
children pass by in the company of a fair young woman, 
whose sudden appearance caused him to flush perceptibly. 

145 * 



WESSEX TALES 

« Ah, she is there,' be thought. • That's a blessed 
thing.' 

Casting an interested glance over the rising building 
and the busy workmen, Lucy Savile and the little 
Downes passed by ; and after that time it became a re- 
gular though almost unconscious custom of Barnet to 
stand in the half-completed house and look from the 
ungarnished windows at the governess as she tripped 
towards the sea-shore with her young charges, which 
she was in the habit of doing on most fine afternoons. 
It was on one of these occasions, when he had been 
loitering on the first-floor landing, near the hole left 
for the staircase, not yet erected, that there appeared 
above the edge of the floor a little hat, followed by a 
little head. 

Barnet withdrew through a doorway, and the child 
came to the top of the ladder, stepping on to the floor 
and crying to her sisters and Miss Savile to follow. 
Another head rose above the floor, and another, and 
then Lucy herself came into view. The troop ran 
hither and thither through the empty, shaving-strewn 
rooms, and Barnet came forward. 

Lucy uttered a small exclamation : she was very 
sorry that she had intruded ; she had not the least idea 
that Mr. Barnet was there : the children had come up, 
and she had followed. 

Barnet replied that he was only too glad to see them 
there. ' And now, let me show you the rooms,' he said. 

She passively assented, and he took her round. 
There was not much to show in such a bare skeleton 
of a house, but he made the most of it, and explained 
the different ornamental fittings that were soon to be 
fixed here and there. Lucy made but few remarks in 
reply, though she seemed pleased with her visit, and stole 
away down the ladder, followed by her companions. 

After this the new residence became yet more of a 
hobby for Barnet. Downe's children did not forget their 

146 



iJ^. FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

first visit, and when the windows were glazed and the 
handsome staircase spread its broad low steps into the 
hall, they came again, prancing in unwearied succession 
through every room from ground-floor to attics, while 
Lucy stood waiting for them at the door. Barnet, who 
rarely missed a day in coming to inspect progress, 
stepped out from the drawing room. 

*I could not keep them out,' she said, with an 
apologetic blush. • I tried to do so very much : but 
they are rather wilful, and we are directed to walk this 
way for the sea air.' 

' Do let them make the house their regular play- 
ground, and you yours,' said Barnet. 'There is no 
better place for children to romp and take their exercise 
in than an empty house, particularly in muddy or damp 
weather such as we shall get a good deal of now ; and 
this place will not be furnished for a long long time — 
perhaps never. I am not at all decided about it.' 

' O, but it must ! ' replied Lucy, looking round at 
the hall. 'The rooms are excellent, twice as high as 
ours ; and the views from the windows are so lovely.* 

' I daresay, I daresay,' he said absently. 

« Will all the furniture be new ? ' she asked. 

« All the furniture be new — that's a thing I have not 
thought of. In fact I only come here and look on. 
My father's house would have been large enough for 
me, but another person had a voice in the matter, 
and it was settled that we should build. However, 
the place grows upon me; its recent associations are 
cheerful, and I am getting to like it fast.' 

A certain uneasiness in Lucy's manner showed that 
the conversation was taking too personal a turn for her. 
•Still, as modern tastes develop, people require more 
room to gratify them in,' she said, withdrawing to call 
the children ; and serenely bidding him good afternoon 
she went on her way. 

Barnet's life at this period was singularly lonely, and 

147 



WESSEX TALES 

yet he was happier than he could have expected. His 
wife's estrangement and absence, which promised to be 
permanent, left him free as a boy in his movements, 
and the solitary walks that he took gave him ample 
opportunity for chastened reflection on what might have 
been his lot if he had only shown wisdom enough to 
claim Lucy Savile when there was no bar between their 
lives, and she was to be had for the asking. He would 
occasionally call at the house of his friend Downe ; but 
there was scarcely enough in common between their two 
natures to make them more than friends of that excellent 
sort whose personal knowledge of each other's history 
and character is always in excess of intimacy, whereby 
they are not so likely to be severed by a clash of senti- 
ment as in cases where intimacy springs up in excess of 
knowledge. Lucy was never visible at these times, being 
either engaged in the school-room, or in taking an airing 
out of doors ; but, knowing that she was now comfort- 
able, and had given up the, to him, depressing idea 
of going off to the other side of the globe, he was quite 
content. 

The new house had so far progressed that the 
gardeners were beginning to grass down the front. 
During an afternoon which he was passing in marking 
the curve for the carriage-drive, he beheld her coming 
in boldly towards him from the road. Hitherto Barnet 
had only caught her on the premises by stealth ; and 
this advance seemed to show that at last her reserve 
had broken down. 

A smile gained strength upon her face as she ap- 
proached, and it was quite radiant when she came up, 
and said, without a trace of embarrassment, * I find I 
owe you a hundred thanks — and it comes to me quite 
as a surprise ! It was through your kindness that I 
was engaged by Mr. Downe. Believe me, Mr. Birnet, 
I did not know it until yesterday, or I should have 
thanked you long and long ago ! * 

148 



"" FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

*I had offended you — ^just a trifle — at the time, I 
think ? ' said Barnet, smiling, * and it was best that you 
should not know.' 

'Yes, yes,' she returned hastily, * Don't allude to 
that; it is past and over, and we will let it be. The 
house is finished almost, is it not? How beautiful it 
will look when the evergreens are grown ! Do you call 
the style Palladian, Mr. Barnet ? ' 

' I — really don't quite know what it is. Yes, it must 
be Palladian, certainly. But I'll ask Jones, the architect ; 
for, to tell the truth, I had not thought much about the 
style : I had nothing to do with choosing it, I am sorry 
to say.' 

She would not let him harp on this gloomy refrain, 
and talked on bright matters till she said, producing a 
small roll of paper which he had noticed in her hand all 
the while, ' Mr. Downe wished me to bring you this 
revised drawing of the late Mrs. Downe's tomb, which 
the architect has just sent him. He would like you to 
look it over.' 

The children came up with their hoops, and she went 
off with them down the harbour-road as usual. Barnet 
had been glad to get those words of thanks ; he had 
been thinking for many months that he would like her 
to know of his share in finding her a home such as it 
was ; and what he could not do for himself, Downe had 
now kindly done for him. He returned to his desolate 
house with a lighter tread ; though in reason he hardly 
knew why his tread should be light. 

On examining the drawing, Barnet found that, in- 
stead of the vast altar-tomb and canopy Downe had 
determined on at their last meeting, it was to be a more 
modest memorial even than had been suggested by the 
architect ; a coped tomb of good solid construction, with 
no useless elaboration at all. Barnet was truly glad to 
see that Downe had come to reason of his own accord ; 
and he returned the drawing with a note of approval, 

149 



WESSEX TALES 

Hi followed up the house- work as before, and as 
he walked up and down the rooms, occasionally gazing 
from the windows over the bulging green hills and the 
quiet harbour that lay between them, he murmured 
words and fragments of words, which, if listened to, 
would have revealed all the secrets of his existence. 
Whatever his reason in going there, Lucy did not call 
again : the walk to the shore seemed to be abandoned : 
he must have thought it as well for both that it should 
be so, for he did not go anywhere out of his accustomed 
ways to endeavour to discover her. 



I 



VIII 

The winter and the spring had passed, and the house 
was complete. It was a fine morning in the early part 
of June, and Barnet, though not in the habit of rising 
early, had taken a long walk before breakfast ; returning 
by way of the new building. A sufficiently exciting 
cause of his restlessness to-day might have been the 
intelligence which had reached him the night before, 
that Lucy Savile was going to India after all, and not- 
withstanding the representations of her friends that such 
a journey was unadvisable in many ways for an un- 
practised girl, unless some more definite advantage lay 
at the end of it than she could show to be the case. 
Barnet's walk up the slope to the building betrayed 
that he was in a dissatisfied mood. He hardly saw 
that the dewy time of day lent an unusual freshness 
to the bushes and trees which had so recently put on 
their summer habit of heavy leafage, and made his 
newly-laid lawn look as well established as an old 
manorial meadow. The house had been so adroitly 
placed between six tall elms which were growing on 
the site beforehand, that they seemed like real ancestral 
trees ; and the rooks, young and old, cawed melodiously 
to their visitor. 

The door was not locked, and he entered. No 
workmen appeared to be present, and he walked fi-om 



WESSEX TALES 

sunny window to sunny window of the empty rooms, 
with a sense of seclusion which might have been very 
pleasant but for the antecedent knowledge that his 
almost paternal care of Lucy Savile was to be thrown 
away by her wilfulness. Footsteps echoed through an 
adjoining room ; and bending his eyes in that direc- 
tion, he perceived Mr. Jones, the architect. He had 
come to look over the building before giving the con- 
tractor his final certificate. They walked over the 
house together. Everything was finished except the 
papering : there were the latest improvements of the 
period in bell-hanging, ventilating, smoke-jacks, fire- 
grates, and French windows. The business was soon 
ended, and Jones, having directed Barnet's attention 
to a roll of wall-paper patterns which lay on a bench 
for his choice, was leaving to keep another engagement, 
when Barnet said, ' Is the tomb finished yet for Mrs. 
Dovvne ? ' 

' Well — yes : it is at last,' said the architect, coming 
back and speaking as if he were in a mood to make 
a confidence. ' I have had no end of trouble in the 
matter, and, to tell the truth, I am heartily glad it is 
over.' 

Barnet expressed his surprise. *I thought poor 
Downe had given up those extravagant notions of his ? 
then he has gone back to the altar and canopy after 
all ? Well, he is to be excused, poor fellow ! * 

'O no — he has not at all gone back to them — 
quite the reverse,' Jones hastened to say. * He has so 
reduced design after design, that the whole thing has 
been nothing but waste labour for me ; till in the end 
it has become a common headstone, which a mason put 
up in half a day.' 

* A common headstone ? * said Barnet. 

*Yes. I held out for some time for the addition 
of a footstone at least. But he said, "O no — he 
couldn't afford it." ' 

15a 



i-r- FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

*Ah, well — his family is growing up, poor fellow, 
and his expenses are getting serious.' 

' Yes, exactly/ said Jones, as if the subject were 
none of his. And again directing Barnet's attention to 
the wall-papers, the bustling architect left him to keep 
some other engagement. 

' A common headstone,' murmured Barnet, left again 
to himself. He mused a minute or two, and next began 
looking over and selecting from the patterns ; but had 
not long been engaged in the work when he heard 
another footstep on the gravel without, and somebody 
enter the open porch. 

Barnet went to the door — it was his manservant in 
search of him. 

' I have been trying for some time to find you, sir,' 
he said. ' This letter has come by the post, and it is 
marked immediate. And there's this one from Mr. 
Downe, who called just now wanting to see you.' He 
searched his pocket for the second. 

Barnet took the first letter — it had a black border, 
and bore the London postmark. It was not in his 
wife's handwriting, or in that of any person he knew ; 
but conjecture soon ceased as he read the page, where- 
in he was briefly informed that Mrs. Barnet had died 
suddenly on the previous day, at the furnished villa 
she had occupied near London. 

Barnet looked vaguely round the empty hall, at the 
blank walls, out of the doorway. Drawing a long palpi- 
tating breath, and with eyes downcast, he turned and 
climbed the stairs slowly, like a man who doubted their 
stability. The fact of his wife having, as it were, died 
once already, and Hved on again, had entirely dislodged 
the possibility of her actual death from his conjecture. 
He went to the landing, leant over the balusters, and 
after a reverie, of whose duration he had but the faintest 
notion, turned to the window and stretched his gaze to 
the cottage further down the road, which was visible 

153 



WESSEX TALES 

from his landing, and from which Lucy still walked 
to the solicitor's house by a cross path. The faint 
words that came from his moving lips were simply, ' At 
last ! ' 

Then, almost involuntarily, Bamet fell down on his 
knees and murmured some incoherent words of thanks- 
giving. Surely his virtue in restoring his wife to life 
had been rewarded ! But, as if the impulse struck un- 
easily on his conscience, he quickly rose, brushed the 
dust from his trousers, and set himself to think of his 
next movements. He could not start for London for 
some hours; and as he had no preparations to make 
that could not be made in half-an-hour, he mechanically 
descended and resumed his occupation of turning over 
the wall-papers. They had all got brighter for him, 
those papers. It was all changed — who would sit in 
the rooms that they were to line? He went on to 
muse upon Lucy's conduct in so frequently coming to 
the house with the children; her occasional blush in 
speaking to him; her evident interest in him. What 
woman can in the long run avoid being interested 
in a man whom she knows to be devoted to her ? 
If human solicitation could ever effect anything, there 
should be no going to India for Lucy now. All 
the papers previously chosen seemed wrong in their 
shades, and he began from the beginning to choose 
again. 

While entering on the task he heard a forced ' Ahem ! ' 
from without the porch, evidently uttered to attract his 
attention, and footsteps again advancing to the door. 
His man, whom he had quite forgotten in his mental 
turmoil, was still waiting there. 

' I beg your pardon, sir,' the man said from round 
the doorway ; ' but here's the note from Mr. Downe 
that you didn't take. He called just after you went 
out, and as he couldn't wait, he wrote this or your 
study-table.* 

154 



i^' 



FELLOW TOWNSMEN 



He handed in the letter — no black-bordered one 
now, but a practical-looking note in the well-known 
writing of the solicitor. 

•Dear Barnet'— it ran— * Perhaps you will be prepared for 
the information I am about to give — that Lucy Savile and myself 
are going to be married this morning. I have hitherto said nothing 
as to my intention to any of my friends, for reasons which I am sure 
you will fully appreciate. The crisis has been brought about by 
her expressing her intention to join her brother in India. I then 
discovered that I could not do without her. 

' It is to be quite a private wedding ; but it is my particular wish 
that you come down here quietly at ten, and go to church with us ; 
it will add greatly to the pleasure I shall experience in the cere- 
mony, and, I believe, to Lucy's also. I have called on you very 
early to make the request, in the belief that I should find you at 
home ; but you are beforehand with me in your early rising. — Yours 
sincerely, C. Downe.' 

'Need I wait, sir?* said the servant after a dead 
silence. 

' That will do, William. No answer,' said Barnet 
calmly. 

When the man had gone Barnet re-read the letter. 
Turning eventually to the wall-papers, which he had 
been at such pains to select, he deUberately tore them 
into halves and quarters, and threw them into the 
empty fireplace. Then he went out of the house, locked 
the door, and stood in the front awhile. Instead of 
returning into the town, he went down the harbour- 
road and thoughtfully lingered about by the sea, near 
the spot where the body of Downe's late wife had been 
found and brought ashore. 

Barnet was a man with a rich capacity for misery, 
and there is no doubt that he exercised it to its fullest 
extent now. The events that had, as it were, dashed 
themselves together into one half-hour of this day 
showed that curious refinement of cruelty in their 
arranj;ement which often proceeds from the bosom of 

'55 



WESSEX TALES 

the whimsical god at other times known as blind 
Circumstance. That his few minutes of hope, between 
the reading of the first and second letters, had carried 
him to extraordinary heights of rapture was proved by 
the immensity of his suffering now. The sun blazing 
into his face would have shown a close watcher that a 
horizontal line, which he had never noticed before, but 
which was never to be gone thereafter, was somehow 
gradually forming itself in the smooth of his forehead. 
His eyes, of a light hazel, had a curious look which can 
only be described by the word bruised ; the sorrow that 
looked from them being largely mixed with the surprise 
of a man taken unawares. 

The secondary particulars of his present position, 
too, were odd enough, though for some time they ap- 
peared to engage little of his attention. Not a soul in 
the town knew, as yet, of his wife's death ; and he 
almost owed Downe the kindness of not publishing it 
till the day was over : the conjuncture, taken with that 
which had accompanied the death of Mrs. Downe, 
being so singular as to be quite sufficient to darken the 
pleasure of the impressionable solicitor to a cruel extent, 
if made known to him. But as Barnet could not set 
out on his journey to London, where his wife lay, for 
some hours (there being at this date no railway within 
a distance of many miles), no great reason existed why 
he should leave the town. 

Impulse in all its forms charactenzed Barnet, and 
when he heard the distant clock strike the hour of ten 
his feet began to carry him up the harbour-road with 
the manner of a man who must do something to bring 
himself to life. He passed Lucy Savile's old house, 
his own new one, and came in view of the church. 
Now he gave a perceptible start, and his mechanical 
condition went away. Before the church-gate were a 
couple of carriages, and Barnet then could perceive that 
the marriage between Downe and Lucy was at thai 

156 



1_' FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

moment being solemnized within. A feeling of sudden, 
proud self-confidence, an indocile wish to walk un- 
moved in spite of grim environments, plainly possessed 
him, and when he reached the wicket-gate he turned in 
without apparent effort. Pacing up the paved footway 
he entered the church and stood for a while in the nave 
passage. A group of people was standing round the 
vestry door ; Barnet advanced through these and stepped 
into the vestry. 

There they were, busily signing their names. Seeing 
Downe about to look round, Barnet averted his some- 
what disturbed face for a second or two; when he 
turned again front to front he was calm and quite 
smiling ; it was a creditable triumph over himself, and 
deserved to be remembered in his native town. He 
greeted Downe heartily, offering his congratulations. 

It seemed as if Barnet expected a half-guilty look 
upon Lucy's face; but no, save the natural flush and 
flurry engendered by the service just performed, there 
was nothing whatever in her bearing which showed a 
disturbed mind : her gray-brown eyes carried in them 
now as at other times the well-known expression of 
common-sensed rectitude which never went so far as 
to touch on hardness. She shook hands with him, and 
Downe said warmly, * I wish you could have come 
sooner: I called on purpose to ask you. You'll drive 
back with us now ? ' 

' No, no,' said Barnet ; ' I am not at all prepared ; 
but I thought I would look in upon you for a moment, 
even though I had not time to go home and dress. I'll 
stand back and see you pass out, and observe the effect 
of the spectacle upon myself as one of the public' 

Then Lucy and her husband laughed, and Barnet 
laughed and retired ; and the quiet little party went 
gliding down the nave and towards the porch, Lucy's 
new silk dress sweeping with a smart rustle round the 
base-mouldings of the ancient font, and Downe's little 

157 



WESSEX TALES 

daughters following in a state of round-eyed interest 
in their position, and that of Lucy, their teacher and 
friend. 

So Downe was comforted after his Emily's death, 
which had taken place twelve months, two weeks, and 
three days before that time. 

When the two flys had driven off and the spectators 
had vanished, Barnet followed to the door, and went 
out into the sun. He took no more trouble to preserve 
a spruce exterior; his step was unequal, hesitating, 
almost convulsive; and the slight changes of colour 
which went on in his face seemed refracted from some 
inward flame. In the churchyard he became pale as a 
summer cloud, and finding it not easy to proceed he 
sat down on one of the tombstones and supported his 
head with his hand. 

Hard by was a sexton filling up a grave which he 
had not found time to finish on the previous evening. 
Observing Barnet, he went up to him, and recognizing 
him, said, ' Shall I help you home, sir ? ' 

• O no, thank you,' said Barnet, rousing himself 
and standing up. The sexton returned to his grave, 
followed by Barnet, who, after watching him awhile, 
stepped into the grave^ now nearly filled, and helped to 
tread in the earth. 

The sexton apparently thought his conduct a little 
singular, but he made no observation, and when the 
grave was full, Barnet suddenly stopped, - looked far 
away, and with a decided step proceeded to the gate 
and vanished. The sexton rested on his shovel and 
looked after him for a few moments, and then began 
banking up the mound. 

In those short minutes of treading in the dead man 
Barnet had formed a design, but what it was the in- 
habitants of that town did not for some long time 
imagine. He went home, wrote several letters of busi- 
ness, called on his lawyer, an old man of the same 

158 



i_. FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

place who had been the legal adviser of Barnet's father 
before him, and during the evening overhauled a large 
quantity of letters and other documents in his posses- 
sion. By eleven o'clock the heap of papers in and 
before Barnet's grate had reached formidable dimen- 
sions, and he began to burn them. This, owing to 
their quantity, it was not so easy to do as he had ex- 
pected, and he sat long into the night to complete the 
task. 

The next morning Barnet departed for London, 
leaving a note for Downe to inform him of Mrs. Barnet's 
sudden death, and that he was gone to bury her ; but 
when a thrice-sufficient time for that purpose had 
elapsed, he was not seen again in his accustomed walks, 
or in his new house, or in his old one. He was gone 
for good, nobody knew whither. It was soon dis- 
covered that he had empowered his lawyer to dispose 
of all his property, real and personal, in the borough, 
and pay in the proceeds to the account of an unknown 
person at one of the large London banks. The person 
was by some supposed to be himself under an assumed 
name ; but few, if any, had certain knowledge of that 
fact. 

The elegant new residence was sold with the rest of 
his possessions ; and its purchaser was no other than 
Downe, now a thriving man in the borough, and one 
whose growing family and new wife required more roomy 
accommodation than was afforded by the little house 
up the narrow side street. Barnet's old habitation was 
bought by the trustees of the Congregational Baptist 
body in that town, who pulled down the time-honoured 
dwelling and built a new chapel on its site. By the 
time the last hour of that, to Barnet, eventful year had 
chimed, every vestige of him had disappeared from the 
precincts of his native place, and the name became 
extinct in the borough of Port-Bredy, after having been 
a living force therein for more than two hundred years. 

«S9 



IX 

1 WENTY-ONE years and six months do not pass 
A-ithout setting a mark even upon durable stone and 
triple brass ; upon humanity such a period works nothing 
less than transformation. In Barnet's old birthplace 
vivacious young children with bones like india-rubber 
had grown up to be stable men and women, men and 
women had dried in the skin, stiffened, withered, and 
sunk into decrepitude ; while selections from every class 
had been consigned to the outlying cemetery. Of in- 
organic differences the greatest was that a railway had 
invaded the town, tying it on to a main line at a junction 
a dozen miles off. Barnet's house on the harbour-road, 
once so insistently new, had acquired a respectable 
mellowness, with ivy, Virginia creepers, lichens, damp 
patches, and even constitutional infirmities of its own 
like its elder fellows. Its architecture, once so very 
improved and modern, had already become stale in style, 
without having reached the dignity of being old-fashioned. 
Trees about the harbour-road had increased in circum- 
ference or disappeared under the saw ; while the church 
had had such a tremendous practical joke played upon 
it by some facetious restorer or other as to be scarce 
recognizable by its dearest old friends. 

During this long interval George Bamet had never 
once been seen or heard of in the town of his fathers. 

J 60 



"" FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

It was the evening of a market-day, and some half- 
dozen middle-aged farmers and dairymen were lounging 
round the bar of the Black-Bull Hotel, occasionally 
dropping a remark to each other, and less frequently to 
the two barmaids who stood within the pewter-topped 
counter in a perfunctory attitude of attention, these 
latter sighing and making a private observation to one 
another at odd intervals, on more interesting experiences 
than the present. 

* Days get shorter,' said one of the dairymen, as he 
looked towards the street, and noticed that the lamp- 
lighter was passing by. 

The farmers merely acknowledged by their counte- 
nances the propriety of this remark, and finding that 
nobody else spoke, one of the barmaids said ' yes,' in a 
tone of painful duty. 

' Come fair-day we shall have to light up before we 
start for home-along.' 

'That's true,' his neighbour conceded, with a gaze 
of blankness. 

' And after that we shan't see much further difference 
all's winter.' 

The rest were not unwilling to go even so far as 
this. 

The barmaid sighed again, and raised one of her 
hands from the counter on which they rested to scratch 
the smallest surface of her face with the smallest of her 
fingers. She looked towards the door, and presently 
remarked, ' I think I hear the 'bus coming in from 
station.' 

The eyes of the dairymen and farmers turned to 
the glass door dividing the hall from the porch, and in 
a minute or two the omnibus drew up outside. Then 
there was a lumbering down of luggage, and then a man 
came into the hall, followed by a porter with a port- 
manteau on his poll, which he deposited on a bench. 

The stranger was an elderly person, with curly ashen- 

l6i L 



WESSEX TALES 

white hair, a deeply-creviced outer corner to each eyelid, 
and a countenance baked by innumerable suns to the 
colour of terra-cotta, its hue and that of his hair con- 
trasting like heat and cold respectively. He walked 
meditatively and gently, like one who was fearful of dis- 
turbing his own mental equilibrium. But whatever lay 
at the bottom of his breast had evidently made him so 
accustomed to its situation there that it caused him little 
practical inconvenience. 

He paused in silence while, with Tiis dubious eyes 
fixed on the barmaids, he seemed to consider himself. 
In a moment or two he addressed them, and asked to 
be accommodated for the night. As he waited he 
looked curiously round the hall, but said nothing. As 
soon as invited he disappeared up the staircase, pre- 
ceded by a chambermaid and candle, and followed by a 
lad with his trunk. Not a soul had recognized him. 

A quarter of an hour later, when the farmers and 
dairymen had driven off to their homesteads in the 
country, he came downstairs, took a biscuit and one 
glass of wine, and walked out into the town, where the 
radiance from the shop-windows had grown so in volume 
of late years as to flood with cheerfulness every standing 
cart, barrow, stall, and idler that occupied the wayside, 
whether shabby or genteel. His chief interest at present 
seemed to lie in the names painted over the shop-fronts 
and on door-ways, as far as they were visible; these 
now differed to an ominous extent from what they had 
been one-and-twenty years before. 

The traveller passed on till he came to the book- 
seller's, where he looked in through the glass door. A 
fresh-faced young man was standing behind the counter, 
otherwise the shop was empty. The gray-haired observer 
entered, asked for some periodical by way of paying for 
admission, and with his elbow on the counter began 
to turn over the pages he had bought, though that he 
read nothing was obvious. 

163 



«_' FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

At length he said, * Is old Mr. Watkins still alive ? ' 
in a voice which had a curious youthful cadence in it 
even now. 

' My father is dead, sir,' said the young man. 

'Ah, I am sorry to hear it,' said the stranger. 
• But it is so many years since I last visited this town 
that I could hardly expect it should be otherwise.' 
After a short silence he continued — * And is the firm 
of Barnet, Browse, and Company still in existence? — 
they used to be large flax-merchants and twine-spinners 
here ? * 

'The firm is still going on, sir, but they have 

dropped the name of Barnet. I believe that was a sort 

of fancy name — at least, I never knew of any living 

Barnet. 'Tis now Browse and Co.' 

. ' And does Andrew Jones still keep on as architect ? ' 

* He's dead, sir.' 

* And the Vicar of St. Mary's — Mr. Melrose ? ' 

* He's been dead a great many years,' 

* Dear me ! ' He paused yet longer, and cleared 
his voice. 'Is Mr. Downe, the solicitor, still in 
practice ? ' 

'No, sir, he's dead. He died about seven years 
ago.' 

Here it was a longer silence still ; and an attentive 
observer would have noticed that the psper in the 
stranger's hand increased its imperceptible tremor to a 
visible shake. That gray-haired gentleman noticed it 
himself, and rested the paper on the counter. ' Is 
Mrs. Downe still alive ? ' he asked, closing his lips 
firmly as soon as the words were out of his mouth, and 
dropping his eyes. 

' Yes, sir, she's alive and well. She's living at the 
old place.' 

' In East Street ? ' 

«0 no; at Chateau Ringdale. I believe it has 
been in the family for some generations.' 

163 



WESSEX TALES 

* She lives with her children, perhaps ? * 

' No ; she has no children of her own. There were 
some Miss Downes ; I think they were Mr. Downe's 
daughters by a former wife; but they are married and 
living in other parts of the town. Mrs. Downe lives 
alone.' 

' Quite alone ? * 

' Yes, sir ; quite alone.' 

The newly-arrived gentleman went back to the hotel 
and dined; after which he made some change in his 
dress, shaved back his beard to the fashion that had 
prevailed twenty years earlier, when he was young and 
interesting, and once more emerging, bent his steps in 
the direction of the harbour-road. Just before getting 
to the point where the pavement ceased and the houses 
isolated themselves, he overtook a shambling, stooping, 
unshaven man, who at first sight appeared like a pro- 
fessional tramp, his shoulders having a perceptible 
greasiness as they passed under the gaslight. Each 
pedestrian momentarily turned and regarded the other, 
and the tramp-like gentleman started back. 

'Good — why — is that Mr. Barnet? 'Tis Mr. 
Barnet, surely ! ' 

' Yes ; and you are Charlson ? ' 

'Yes — ah — you notice my appearance. The Fates 
have rather ill-used me. By-the-bye, that fifty pounds. 
I never paid it, did I ? . . . But I was not ungrateful ! ' 
Here the stooping man laid one hand emphatically 
on the palm of the other. ' I gave you a chance, Mr. 
George Barnet, which many men would have thought 
full value received — the chance to marry your Lucy. 
As far as the world was concerned, your wife was a 
drowned woman, hey ? ' 

* Heaven forbid all that, Charlson ! ' 

* Well, well, 'twas a wrong way of showing gratitude, 
T suppose. And now a drop of something to drink for 
old acquaintance' sakel And Mr. Barnet, she's again 

164 



i-^' 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

free — there's a chance now if you care for it — ha, ha ! * 
And the speaker pushed his tongue into his hollow 
cheek and slanted his eye in the old fashion. 

' I know all,' said Barnet quickly ; and slipping a 
small present into the hands of the needy, saddening 
man, he stepped ahead and was soon in the outskirts 
of the town. 

He reached the harbour-road, and paused before 
the entrance to a well-known house. It was so highly 
bosomed in trees and shrubs planted since the erection 
of the building that one would scarcely have recognized 
the spot as that which had been a mere neglected slope 
till chosen as a site for a dwelling. He opened the 
swing-gate, closed it noiselessly, and gently moved into 
the semicircular drive, which remained exactly as it had 
been marked out by Barnet on the morning when Lucy 
Savile ran in to thank him for procuring her the post 
of governess to Downe's children. But the growth of 
trees and bushes which revealed itself at every step 
was beyond all expectation ; sun-proof and moon-proof 
bowers vaulted the walks, and the walls of the house 
were uniformly bearded with creeping plants as high as 
the first-floor windows. 

After lingering for a few minutes in the dusk of the 
bending boughs, the visitor rang the door-bell, and on 
the servant appearing, he announced himself as ' an old 
friend of Mrs. Downe's.' 

The hall was lighted, but not brightly, the gas being 
turned low, as if visitors were rare. There was a stagna- 
tion in the dwelling : it seemed to be waiting. Could 
it really be waiting for him ? The partitions which had 
been probed by Barnet's walking-stick when the mortar 
was green, were now quite brown with the antiquity of 
their varnish, and the ornamental woodwork of the 
staircase, which had glistened with a pale yellow new- 
ness when first erected, was now of a rich wine-colour. 
During the servant's absence the following colloquy 

i6s 



ATESSEX TALES 

could be dimly heard through the nearly closed door of 

the drawing-room. 

' He didn't give his name ? ' 

' He only said " an old friend," ma'am.' 

' What kind of gentleman is he ? ' 

* A staidish gentleman, with gray hair.* 

The voice of the second speaker seemed to affect 
the hstener greatly. After a pause, the. lady said, ' Very 
well, I will see him.' 

And the stranger was shown in face to face with the 
Lucy who had once been Lucy Savile. The round 
cheek of that formerly young lady had, of course, alarm- 
ingly flattened its curve in her modern representative ; a 
pervasive grayness overspread her once dark brown hair, 
like morning rime on heather. The parting down the 
middle was wide and jagged ; once it had been a thin 
white line, a narrow crevice between two high banks of 
shade. But there was still enough left to form a hand- 
some knob behind, and some curls beneath inwrought 
with a few hairs like silver wires were very becoming. 
In her eyes the only modification was that their originally 
mild rectitude of expression had become a little more 

stringent than heretofore. Yet she was still girlish a 

girl who had been gratuitously weighted by destiny with 
a burden of five-and-forty years instead of her proper 
twenty. 

*Lucy, don't you know me?' he said, when the 
servant had closed the door. 

* I knew you the instant I saw you ! * she returned 
cheerfully. 'I don't know why, but I always thought 
you would come back to your old town again.' 

She gave him her hand, and then they sat down. 
♦ They said you were dead,' continued Lucy, ' but I never 
thought so. We should have heard of it for certain 
if you had been.' 

* It is a very long time since we met.' 

• Yes ; what you must have seen, Mr. Barnet, in all 

1 66 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

these roving yean, in comparison with what I have seen 
in this quiet place ! ' Her face grew more serious. 
* You know my husband has been dead a long time ? 
I am a lonely old woman now, considering what I have 
been; though Mr. Downe's daughters — all married — 
manage to keep me pretty cheerful.' 

* And I am a lonely old man, and have been any 
time these twenty years.' 

* But where have you kept yourself? And why did 
you go off so mysteriously ? ' 

' Well, Lucy, I have kept myself a little in America, 
and a Httle in Australia, a little in India, a little at the 
Cape, and so on ; I have not stayed in any place for 
a long time, as it seems to me, and yet more than 
twenty years have flown. But when people get to my 
age two years go like one ! — Your second question, why 
did I go away so mysteriously, is surely not necessary. 
Y'ou guessed why, didn't you ? * 

' No, I never once guessed,' she said simply ; ♦ nor 
did Charies, nor did anybody as far as I know.' 

* Well, indeed ! Now think it over again, and then 
look at me, and say if you can't guess ? * 

She looked him in the face with an inquiring smile. 
♦Surely not because of me?' she said, pausing at the 
commencement of surprise. 

Barnet nodded, and smiled again ; but his smile was 
sadder than hers. 

* Because I married Charles ? ' she asked. 

' Yes ; solely because you married him on the day 
I was free to ask you to marry me. My wife died four- 
and-twenty hours before you went to church with Downe. 
The fixing of my journey at that particular moment was 
because of her funeral ; but once away I knew I should 
have no inducement to come back, and took my steps 
accordingly.' 

Her face assumed an aspect of gentle reflection^ and 
she looked up and down his form with great interest 

M 167 



WESSEX TALES 

in her eyes. * I never thought of it ! * she said. * I 
knew, of course, that you had once impHed some warmth 
of feeling towards me, but I concluded that it passed 
off. And I have always been under the impression 
that your wife was alive at the time of my marriage. 
Was it not stupid of me ! — But you will have some tea 
or something? I have never dined late, you know, 
since my husband's death. I have got into the way 
of making a regular meal of tea. You will have some 
tea with me, will you not ? * 

The travelled man assented quite readily, and tea 
was brought in. They sat and chatted over the meal, 
regardless of the flying hour. * Well, well 1 ' said Barnet 
presently, as for the first time he leisurely surveyed the 
room ; ' how like it all is, and yet how different ! Just 
where your piano stands was a board on a couple of 
trestles, bearing the patterns of wall-papers, when I was 
last here. I was choosing them — standing in this way, 
as it might be. Then my servant came in at the door, 
and handed me a note, so. It was from Downe, and 
announced that you were just going to be married to 
him. I chose no more wall-papers — tore up all those 
I had selected, and left the house. I never entered it 
again till now.' 

* Ah, at last I understand it all,' she murmured. 

They had both risen and gone to the fireplace. The 
mantel came almost on a level with her shoulder, which 
gently rested against it, and Barnet laid his hand upon 
the shelf close beside her shoulder. 'Lucy,' he said, 
* better late than never. Will you marry me now ? ' 

She started back, and the surprise which was so 
obvious in her wrought even greater surprise in him 
that it should be so. It was difficult to believe that 
she had been quite blind to the situation, and yet all 
reason and common sense went to prove that she was 
not acting. 

' You take me quite unawares by such a question 1 ' 

1 68 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

she said, with a forced laugh of uneasiness. It was 
the first time she had shown any embarrassment at 
all. • Why,' she added, * I couldn't marry you for the 
world.' 

• Not after all this ! Why not ? » 

*It is — I would — I really think I may say it — I 
would upon the whole rather marry you, Mr. Barnet, 
than any other man I have ever met, if I ever dreamed 
of marriage again. But I don't dream of it — it is quite 
out of my thoughts ; I have not the least intention of 
marrying again.' 

< But — on my account — couldn't you alter your plans 
a little ? Come ! ' 

' Dear Mr. Barnet,* she said with a httle flutter, * I 
would on your account if on anybody's in existence. 
But you don't know in the least what it is you are 
asking — such an impracticable thing — I won't say 
ridiculous, of course, because I see that you are really 
in earnest, and earnestness is never ridiculous to my 
mind.' 

'Well, yes,* said Barnet more slowly, dropping her 
hand, which he had taken at the moment of pleading, 
' I am in earnest. The resolve, two months ago, at the 
Cape, to come back once more was, it is true, rather 
sudden, and as I see now, not well considered. But 
I am in earnest in asking.* 

* And I in declining. With all good feeling and all 
kindness, let me say that I am quite opposed to the 
idea of marrying a second time.' 

♦Well, no harm has been done,* he answered, with 
the same subdued and tender humorousness that he 
had shown on such occasions in early life. ' If you 
really won't accept me, I must put up with it, I sup- 
pose.* His eye fell on the clock as he spoke. * Had 
you any notion that it was so late ? * he asked. * How 
absorbed I have been ! * 

She accompanied him to the hall, helped him to 

169 



WESSEX TALES 

put on his overcoat, and let him out of the house 

herself. 

'Good-night,' said Barnet, on the doorstep, as the 
lamp shone in his face. ' You are not oifended with 
me?' 

• Certainly not. Nor you with me ? ' 

* I'll consider whether I am or not,* he pleasantly 
replied. * Good-night.' 

She watched him safely through the gate ; and when 
his footsteps had died away upon the road, closed the 
door softly and returned to the room. Here the modest 
widow long pondered his speeches, with eyes dropped 
to an unusually low level. Barnet's urbanity under 
the blow of her refusal greatly impressed her. After 
having his long period of probation rendered useless 
by her decision, he had shown no anger, and had philo- 
sophically taken her words as if he deserved no better 
ones. It was very gentlemanly of him, certainly; it 
was more than gentlemanly ; it was heroic and grand. 
The more she meditated, the more she questioned the 
virtue of her conduct in checking him so peremptorily ; 
and went to her bedroom in a mood of dissatisfaction. 
On looking in the glass she was reminded that there 
was not so much remaining of her former beauty as to 
make his frank declaration an impulsive natural homage 
to her cheeks and eyes ; it must undoubtedly have 
arisen from an old staunch feeling of his, deserving 
tenderest consideration. She recalled to her mind with 
much pleasure that he had told her he was staying at 
the Black-Bull Hotel ; so that if, after waiting a day or 
two, he should not, in his modesty, call again, she 
might then send him a nice little note. To alter her 
views for the present was far from her intention ; but 
she would allow herself to be induced to reconsider the 
case, as any generous woman ought to do. 

The morrow came and passed, and Mr. Barnet did 
not drop in. At every knock, light youthful hues flew 

170 



■*— .' 



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 

across her cheek; and she was abstracted in the 
presence of her other visitors. In the evening she 
walked about the house, not knowing what to do with 
herself; the conditions of existence seemed totally dif- 
ferent from those which ruled only four-and-twenty 
short hours ago. What had been at first a tantalizing 
elusive sentiment was getting accHmatized within her 
as a definite hope, and her person was so informed by 
that emotion that she might almost have stood as its 
emblematical representative by the time the clock struck 
ten. In short, an interest in Barnet precisely resem- 
bling that of her early youth led her present heart to 
belie her yesterday's words to him, and she longed to 
see him again. 

The next day she walked out early, thinking she 
might meet him in the street. The growing beauty of 
her romance absorbed her, and she went from the street 
to the fields, and from the fields to the shore, without 
any consciousness of distance, till reminded by her 
weariness that she could go no further. He had 
nowhere appeared. In the evening she took a step 
which under the circumstances seemed justifiable ; she 
wrote a note to him at the hotel, inviting him to tea 
with her at six precisely, and signing her note ' Lucy.' 

In a quarter of an hour the messenger came back. 
Mr. Barnet had left the hotel early in the morning of 
the day before, but he had stated that he would pro- 
bably return in the course of the week. 

The note was sent back, to be given to him immedi- 
ately on his arrival. 

There was no sign from the inn that this desired 
event had occurred, either on the next day or the day 
following. On both nights she had been restless, and 
had scarcely slept half-an-hour. 

On the Saturday, putting off all diffidence, Lucy 
went herself to the Black-Bull, and questioned the staff 
closely. 

17* 



WESSEX TALES 

Mr. Barnet "had cursorily remarked when leaving 
that he might return on the Thursday or Friday, but 
they were directed not to reserve a room for him unless 
he should write. 

He had left no address. 

Lucy sorrowfully took back her note, went home, 
and resolved to wait. 

She did wait — years and years — but Barnet never 
reappeared. 

April iS8a 



tNTERLOFBRS AT THE KNAP 



INTERLOPERS A T THE KNAP 



The north road from Casterbridge is tedious and 
lonely, especially in winter-time. Along a part of its 
course it connects v.ith Long- Ash Lane, a monotonous 
track without a village or hamlet for many miles, and 
with very seldom a turning. Unapprized wayfarers who 
are too old, or too young, or in other respects too 
weak for the distance to be traversed, but who, never- 
theless, have to walk it, say, as they look wistfully 
ahead, ' Once at the top of that hill, and I must surely 
see the end of Long-Ash Lane ! ' But they reach the 
hilltop, and Long-Ash Lane stretches in front as merci- 
lessly as before. 

Some few years ago a certain farmer was riding 
through this lane in the gloom of a winter evening. 
The farmer's friend, a dairyman, was riding beside him. 
A few paces in the rear rode the farmer's man. All 
three were well horsed on strong, round-barrelled cobs ; 
and to be well horsed was to be in better spirits about 
Long-Ash Lane than poor pedestrians could attain to 
during its passage. 

But the farmer did not talk much to his friend as 
he rode along. The enterprise which had brought him 

»75 



WESSEX TALES 

there filled his mind ; for in truth it was important. 
Not altogether so important was it, perhaps, when esti- 
mated by its value to society at large ; but if the true 
measure of a deed be proportionate to the space it 
occupies in the heart of him who undertakes it, Farmer 
Charles Darton's business to-night could hold its own 
with the business of kings. 

He was a large farmer. His turnover, as it is called, 
was probably thirty thousand pounds a year. He had 
a great many draught horses, a great many milch cows, 
and of sheep a multitude. This comfortable position 
was, however, none of his own making. It had been 
created by his father, a man of a very different stamp 
from the present representative of the line. 

Darton, the father, had been a one-idea'd character, 
with a buttoned-up pocket and a chink-like eye brim- 
ming with commercial subtlety. In Darton the son, 
this trade subtlety had become transmuted into emo- 
tional, and the harshness had disappeared; he would 
have been called a sad man but for his constant care 
not to divide himself from lively friends by piping notes 
out of harmony with theirs. Contemplative, he allowed 
his mind to be a quiet meeting- place for memories and 
hopes. So that, naturally enough, since succeeding to 
the agricultural calling, and up to his present age of 
thirty-two, he had neither advanced nor receded as a 
capitalist — a stationary result which did not agitate one 
of his unambitious, unstrategic nature, since he had 
all that he desired. The motive of his expedition to- 
night showed the same absence of anxious regard for 
Number One. 

The party rode on in the slow, safe trot proper to 
night-time and bad roads. Farmer Darton's head jigging 
rather unromantically up and down against the sky, and 
his motions being repeated with bolder emphasis by his 
friend Japheth Johns; while those of the latter were 
travestied in jerks still less softened by art in the 

176 



«-,' 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

person of the lad who attended them. A pair of whitish 
objects hung one on each side of the latter, bumping 
against him at each step, and still further spoiling the 
grace of his seat. On close inspection they might have 
been perceived to be open rush baskets — one containing 
a turkey, and the other some bottles of wine. 

' D'ye feel ye can meet your fate like a man, neighbour 
Darton?' asked Johns, breaking a silence which had lasted 
while five-and-twenty hedgerow trees had ghded by. 

Mr. Darton with a half-laugh murmured, ' Ay — call 
it my fate! Hanging and wiving go by destiny.' And 
then they were silent again. 

The darkness thickened rapidly, at intervals shutting 
down on the land in a perceptible flap, like the wave of 
a wing. The customary close of day was accelerated 
by a simultaneous blurring of the air. With the fall of 
night had come a mist just damp enough to incommode, 
but not sufficient to saturate them. Countrymen as 
they were — born, as may be said, with only an open 
door between them and the four seasons — they regarded 
the mist but as an added obscuration, and ignored its 
humid quality. 

They were travelling in a direction that was enlivened 
by no modern current of traffic, the place of Darton's 
pilgrimage being an old-fashioned village — one of the 
Hintocks (several villages of that name, with a distinctive 
prefix or affix, lying thereabout) — where the people make 
the best cider and cider-wine in all Wcssex, and where 
the dunghills smell of pomace instead of stable refuse 
as elsewhere. The lane was sometimes so narrow that 
the brambles of the hedge, which hung forward hke 
anglers' rods over a stream, scratched their hats and 
curry-combed their whiskers as they passed. Yet this 
neglected lane had been a highway to Queen Elizabeth's 
subjects and the cavalcades of the past. Its day was over 
now, and its history as a national artery done for ever. 
• Why I have decided to marry her,' resumed Darton 

177 M 



WESSEX TALES 

(in a measured musical voice of confidence which re- 
vealed a good deal of his composition), as he glanced 
round to see that the lad was not too near, * is not only 
that I like her, but that I can do no better, even from 
a fairly practical point of view. That I might ha' looked 
higher is possibly true, though it is really all nonsense. 
I have had experience enough in looking above me. 
" No more superior women for me," said I — you know 
when. Sally is a comely, independent, simple character, 
with no make-up about her, who'll think me as much a 
superior to her as I used to think — you know who I 
mean — was to me.' 

* Ay,' said Johns. ' However, I shouldn't call Sally 
Hall simple. Primary, because no Sally is ; secondary, 
because if some could be, this one wouldn't. 'Tis a 
wrong denomination to apply to a woman, Charles, and 
affects me, as your best man, like cold water. 'Tis like 
recommending a stage play by saying there's neither 
murder, villainy, nor harm of any sort in it, when that's 
what you've paid your half-crown to see.' 

•Well; may your opinion do you good. Mine's a 
different one.' And turning the conversation from the 
philosophical to the practical, Darton expressed a hope 
that the said Sally had received what he'd sent on by 
the carrier that day. 

Johns wanted to know what that was. 

* It is a dress,' said Darton. ' Not exactly a wedding- 
dress ; though she may use it as one if she likes. It 
is rather serviceable than showy — suitable for the winter 
weather.' 

' Good,' said Johns. ' Serviceable is a wise word in 
a bridegroom. I commend ye, Charles.' 

' For,' said Darton, * why should a woman dress up 
like a rope-dancer because she's going to do the most 
solemn deed of her life except dying ? ' 

* Faith, why ? But she will, because she will, I 
suppose,' said Dairyman Johns. 

178 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

* H'ln,* said Darton. 

The lane they followed had been nearly straight for 
several miles, but it now took a turn, and winding un- 
certainly for some distance forked into two. By night 
country roads are apt to reveal ungainly qualities which 
pass without observation during day ; and though Darton 
had travelled this way before, he had not done so fre- 
quently, Sally having been wooed at the house of a 
relative near his own. He never remembered seeing 
at this spot a pair of alternative ways looking so equally 
probable as these two did now. Johns rode on a few 
steps. 

' Don't be out of heart, sonny,* he cried. * Here's a 
handpost. Enoch — come and climm this post, and tell 
us the way.' 

The lad dismounted, and jumped into the hedge 
where the post stood under a tree. 

* Unstrap the baskets, or you'll smash up that wine ! ' 
cried Darton, as the young man began spasmodically to 
climb the post, baskets and all. 

* Was there ever less head in a brainless world ? ' 
said Johns. * Here, simple Nocky, I'll do it.' He 
leapt off, and with much pufifing climbed the post, 
striking a match when he reached the top, and moving 
the light along the arm, the lad standing and gazing at 
the spectacle. 

' I have faced tantalization these twenty years with a 
temper as mild as milk i ' said Japheth ; * but such things 
as this don't come short of devilry ! ' And flinging the 
match away, he slipped down to the ground. 

' What's the matter ? ' asked Darton. 

* Not a letter, sacred or heathen — not so much as 
would tell us the way to the great fireplace — ever 1 
should sin to say it ! Either the moss and mildew 
have eat away the words, or we have arrived in a land 
where the natyves have lost the art o' writing, and should 
ha' brought our compass like Christopher Columbus.' 

X79 



WESSEX TALES 

•Let us take the straightest road,' said Darton 
placidly ; ' I shan't be sorry to get there — 'tis a tire- 
some ride. I would have driven if I had known.' 

• Nor I neither, sir,' said Enoch. ' These straps 
plough my shoulder like a zull. If 'tis much further 
to your lady's home, Maister Darton, I shall ask to be 
let carry half of these good things in my innerds — 
hee, hee ! ' 

' Don't you be such a reforming radical, Enoch,' said 
Johns sternly. ' Here, I'll take the turkey.' 

This being done, they went forward by the right-hand 
lane, which ascended a hill, the left winding away under 
a plantation. The pit-a-pat of their horses' hoofs lessened 
up the slope ; and the ironical directing-post stood in 
solitude as before, holding out its blank arms to the 
raw breeze, which brought a snore from the wood as if 
Skrymir the Giant were sleeping there. 



«:-,- 



11 

Three miles to the left of the travellers, along the 
road they had not followed, rose an old house with 
mullioned windows of Ham-hill stone, and chimneys of 
lavish solidity. It stood at the top of a slope beside 
Great-Hintock village-street; and immediately in front 
of it grew a large sycamore-tree, whose bared roots 
formed a convenient staircase from the road below to 
the front door of the dwelling. Its situation gave the 
house what Uttle distinctive name it possessed, namely, 
•The Knap.' Some forty yards off a brook dribbled 
past, which, for its size, made a great deal of noise. At 
the back was a dairy barton, accessible for vehicles and 
live-stock by a side 'drong.' Thus much only of the 
character of the homestead could be divined out of 
doors at this shady evening-time. 

But within there was plenty of light to see by, as 
plenty was construed at Hintock. Beside a Tudor 
fireplace, whose moulded four-centred arch was nearly 
hidden by a figured blue-cloth blower, were seated two 
women — mother and daughter — Mrs. Hall, and Sarah, 
or Sally; for this was a part of the world where the 
latter modification had not as yet been effaced as a 
vulgarity by the march of intellect. The owner of 
the name was the young woman by whose means Mr. 

i8x 



WESSEX TALES 

Darton proposed to put an end to his bachelor condition 
on the approaching day. 

The mother's bereavement had been so long ago as 
not to leave much mark of its occurrence upon her 
now, either in face or clothes. She had resumed the 
mob-cap of her early married life, enlivening its white- 
ness by a few rose-du-Barry ribbons. Sally required 
no such aids to pinkness. Roseate good-nature lit up 
her gaze; her features showed curves of decision and 
judgment; and she might have been regarded without 
much mistake as a warm-hearted, quick-spirited, hand- 
some girl. 

She did most of the talking, her mother listening 
with a half-absent air, as she picked up fragments of 
red-hot wood ember with the tongs, and piled them 
upon the brands. But the number of speeches that 
passed was very small in proportion to the meanings 
exchanged. Long experience together often enabled 
them to see the course of thought in each other's 
minds without a word being spoken. Behind them, in 
the centre of the room, the table was spread for supper, 
certain whiffs of air laden with fat vapours, which ever 
and anon entered from the kitchen, denoting its prepara- 
tion there. 

'The new gown he was going to send you stays 
about on the way like himself,' Sally's mother was 
saying. 

'Yes, not finished, I daresay,' cried Sally indepen- 
dently. ' Lord, I shouldn't be amazed if it didn't come 
at all ! Young men make such kind promises when 
they are near you, and forget 'em when they go away. 
But he doesn't intend it as a wedding-gown — he gives 
it to me merely as a gown to wear when I like — a 
travelling-dress is what it would be called by some. 
Come rathe or come late it don't much matter, as I 
have a dress of my own to fall back upon. But what 
time is it ? ' 

183 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

She went to the family clock and opened the glass, 
for the hour was not otherwise discernible by night, 
and indeed at all times was rather a thino; to be in- 
vestigated than beheld, so much more wall than window 
was there in the apartment. ' It is nearly eight,' said 
she. 

' Eight o'clock, and neither dress nor man,' said 
Mrs. Hall. 

' Mother, if you think to tantalize me by talking like 
that, you are much mistaken ! Let him be as late as 
he will — or stay away altogether — I don't care,' said 
Sally. But a tender, minute quaver in the negation 
showed that there was something forced in that state- 
ment. 

Mrs. Hall perceived it, and drily observed that she 
was not so sure about Sally not caring. ' But perhaps 
you don't care so much as I do, after all,' she said. 
* For I see what you don't, that it is a good and 
flourishing match for you; a very honourable offer in 
Mr. Darton. And I think I see a kind husband in 
him. So pray God 'twill go smooth, and wind up 
well.' 

Sally would not listen to misgivings. Of course it 
would go smoothly, she asserted. ' How you are up 
and down, mother ! * she went on. ' At this moment, 
whatever hinders him, we are not so anxious to see him 
as he is to be here, and his thought runs on before 
him, and settles down upon us like the star in the 
east. Hark ! ' she exclaimed, with a breath of relief, 
her eyes sparkling. * I heard something. Yes — here 
they are ! * 

The next moment her mother's slower ear also dis- 
tinguished the familiar reverberation occasioned by foot- 
steps clambering up the roots of the sycamore. 

' Yes it sounds like them at last,' she said. ' Well, 
it is not so very late after all, considering the dis- 
tance.' 

N 183 



WESSEX TALES 

The footfall ceased, and they arose, expecting a 
knock. They began to think it might have been, after 
all, some neighbouring villager under Bacchic influence, 
giving the centre of the road a wide berth, when their 
doubts were dispelled by the new-comer's entry into the 
passage. The door of the room was gently opened, 
and there appeared, not the pair of travellers with 
whom we have already made acquaintance, but a pale- 
faced man in the garb of extreme poverty — almost 
in rags. 

' O, it's a tramp — gracious me ! * said Sally, starting 
back. 

His cheeks and eye-orbits were deep concaves — 
rather, it might be, from natural weakness of constitu- 
tion than irregular living, though there were indica- 
tions that he had led no careful life. He gazed at 
the two women fixedly for a moment : then with an 
abashed, humiliated demeanour, dropped his glance 
to the floor, and sank into a chair without uttering a 
word. 

Sally was in advance of her mother, who had re- 
mained standing by the fire. She now tried to discern 
the visitor across the candles. 

•Why — mother,' said Sally faintly, turning back to 
Mrs. Hall. ' It is Phil, from Australia ! ' 

Mrs. Hall started, and grew pale, and a fit of 
coughing seized the man with the ragged clothes. 
• To come home like this 1 ' she said. ' O, Philip — are 
you ill ? ' 

' No, no, mother,' replied he impatiently, as soon as 
he could speak. 

'But for God's sake how do you come here — and 
just now too ? ' 

'Well, I am here,' said the man. 'How it is I 
hardly know. I've come home, mother, because I was 
driven to it. Things were against me out there, and 
went from bad to worse.' 

184 



»_- 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

*Then why didn't you let us know? — you've not 
writ a line for the last two or three years.' 

The son admitted sadly that he had not. He said 
that he had hoped and thought he might fetch up again, 
and be able to send good news. Then he had been 
obliged to abandon that hope, and had finally come 
home from sheer necessity — previously to making a 
new start. ' Yes, things are very bad with me,' he 
repeated, perceiving their commiserating glances at his 
clothes. 

They brought him nearer the fire, took his hat 
from his thin hand, which was so small and smooth 
as to show that his attempts to fetch up again 
had not been in a manual direction. His mother re- 
sumed her inquiries, and dubiously asked if he had 
chosen to come that particular night for any special 
reason. 

For no reason, he told her. His arrival had been 
quite at random. Then Philip Hall looked round the 
room, and saw for the first time that the table was laid 
somewhat luxuriously, and for a larger number than 
themselves ; and that an air of festivity pervaded their 
dress. He asked quickly what was going on. 

' Sally is going to be married in a day or two,' re- 
plied the mother ; and she explained how Mr. Dartoi^, 
Sally's intended husband, was coming there that night 
with the groomsman, Mr. Johns, and other details. ' We 
thought it must be their step when we heard you,' said 
Mrs. Hall. 

The needy wanderer looked again on the floor. ' I 
see — I see,' he murmured. 'Why, indeed, should I 
have come to-night? Such folk as I are not wanted 
here at these times, naturally. And I have no business 
here — spoiling other people's happiness.* 

* Phil,' said his mother, with a tear in her eye, but 
with a thinness of lip and severity of manner which 
were presumably not more than past events justified; 

185 



WESSEX TALES 

• since you speak like that to me, I'll speak honestly to 
you. For these three years you have taken no thought 
for us. You left home with a good supply of money, 
and strength and education, and you ought to have 
made good use of it all. But you come back like a 
beggar ; and that you come in a very awkward time for 
us cannot be denied. Your return to-night may do us 
much harm. But mind — you are welcome to this home 
as long as it is mine. I don't wish to turn you adrift. 
We will make the best of a bad job; and I hope you 
are not seriously ill ? ' 

' O no. I have only this infernal cough,* 

She looked at him anxiously. * I think you had 
better go to bed at once,' she said. 

*Well — I shall be out of the way there,* said the 
son wearily. * Having ruined myself, don't let me ruin 
you by being seen in these togs, for Heaven's sake. 
Who do you say Sally is going to be married to — a 
Farmer Dar«"on ? ' 

'Yes — a gentleman-farmer — quite a wealthy man. 
Far better in station than she could have expected. It 
is a good thing, altogether.' 

' Well done, little Sal ! ' said her brother, brightening 
and looking up at her with a smile. ' I ought to have 
written ; but perhaps I have thought of you all the more. 
But let me get out of sight. I would rather go and 
jump into the river than be seen here. But have you 
anything I can drink ? I am confoundedly thirsty with 
my long tramp.* 

'Yes, yes, we will bring something upstairs to you,* 
said Sally, with grief in her face. 

' Ay, that will do nicely. But, Sally and mother — * 
He stopped, and they waited. ' Mother, I have not 
told you all,' he resumed slowly, still looking on the 
floor between his knees. ' Sad as what you see of me 
is, there's worse behind.* 

His mother gazed upon him in grieved suspf-nse, 

jS6 



Interlopers at the knap 

and Sally went and leant upon the bureau, listening for 
every sound, and sighing. Suddenly she turned round, 
saying, ' Let them come, I don't care I Philip, tell the 
worst, and take your time.' 

'Well, then,' said the unhappy Phil, *I am not the 
only one in this mess. Would to Heaven I werel 
But ' 

♦ O, Phil ! ' 

• I have a wife as destitute as I.* 

• A wife ? ' said his mother. 

* Unhappily ! ' 

* A wife ! Yes, that is the way with sons ! * 
•And besides ' said he. 

♦ Besides ! O, Philip, surely ' 

• I have two little children.' 

•Wife and children!' whispered Mrs. Hall, sinking 
down confounded, 

' Poor little things ! ' said Sally involuntarily. 

His mother turned again to him. * I suppose these 
helpless beings are left in Australia ? ' 

' No. They are in England.' 

' Well, I can only hope you've left them in a respect- 
able place.' 

' I have not left them at all. They are here — 
within a few yards of us. In short, they are in the 
stable.' 

'Where?' 

' In the stable. I did not like to bring them indoors 
till I had seen you, mother, and broken the bad news 
a bit to you. They were very tired, and are resting out 
there on some straw.' 

Mrs. Hall's fortitude visibly broke down. She had 
been brought up not without refinement, and was even 
more moved by such a collapse of genteel aims as this 
than a substantial dairyman's widow would in ordinary 
have been moved. ' Well, it must be borne,' she said, 
in a low voice, with her hands tightly joined. 'A 

187 



WESSEX TALES 

starving son, a starving wife, starving children ! Let 
it be. But why is this come to us now, to-day, to- 
night? Could no other misfortune happen to help- 
less women than this, which will quite upset my poor 
girl's chance of a happy life? Why have you done 
us this wrong, Philip? What respectable man will 
come here, and marry open-eyed into a family of vaga- 
bonds ? ' 

* Nonsense, mother ! said Sally vehemently, while 
her face flushed. * Charley isn't the man to desert me. 
But if he should be, and won't marry me because 
Phil's come, let him go and marry elsewhere. I won't 
be ashamed of my own flesh and blood for any man in 
England — not 1 1 ' And then Sally turned away and 
burst into tears. 

' Wait till you are twenty years older and you will 
tell a different tale,' replied her mother. 

The son stood up. * Mother,' he said bitterly, * as 
I have come, so I will go. All I ask of you is that you 
will allow me and mine to lie in your stable to-night. 
I give you my word that we'll be gone by break of day, 
and trouble you no further ! ' 

Mrs Hall, the mother, changed at that. 'O no,' 
she answered hastily ; ' never shall it be said that I 
sent any of my own family from my door. Bring 'em 
in, Philip, or take me out to them.' 

' We will put 'em all into the large bedroom,' said 
Sally, brightening, • and make up a large fire. Let's go 
and help them in, and call Rebekah.' (Rebekah was 
the woman who assisted at the dairy and housework ; 
she lived in a cottage hard by with her husband, who 
attended to the cows.) 

Sally went to fetch a lantern from the back-kitchen, 
but her brother said, * You won't want a light. I lit the 
lantern that was hanging there.' 

* What must we call your wife ? ' asked Mrs. HalL 

* Helena,' said Pliilip. 

i88 



* ,' 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

With shawls over their heads they proceeded towards 
the back door. 

' One minute before you go,' interrupted Philip. ' I 
— I haven't confessed all.' 

'Then Heaven help us!' said Mrs. Hall, push- 
ing to the door and clasping her hands in calm 
despair. 

' We passed through Evershead as we came,' he con- 
tinued, ' and I just looked in at the " Sow-and-Acorn " 
to see if old Mike still kept on there as usual. The 
carrier had come in from Sherton Abbas at that moment, 
and guessing that I was bound for this place — for I 
think he knew me — he asked me to bring on a dress- 
maker's parcel for Sally that was marked " immediate." 
My wife had walked on with the children. 'Twas a 
flimsy parcel, and the paper was torn, and I found on 
looking at it that it was a thick warm gown. I didn't 
wish you to see poor Helena in a shabby state. I 
was ashamed that you should — 'twas not what she 
was born to. I untied the parcel in the road, took 
it on to her where she was waiting in the Lower Barn, 
and told her I had managed to get it for her, and 
that she was to ask no question. She, poor thing, must 
have supposed I obtained it on trust, through having 
reached a place where I was known, for she put it on 
gladly enough. She has it on now. Sally has other 
gowns, I daresay.' 

Sally looked at her mother, speechless. 

* You have others, I daresay ! ' repeated Phil, with a 
sick man's impatience. ' I thought to myself, " Better 
Sally cry than Helena freeze." Well, is the dress of 
great consequence ? 'Twas nothing very ornamental, 
as far as I could see.' 

' No — no ; not of consequence,' returned Sally sadly, 
adding in a gentle voice, ' You will not mind if I lend 
her another instead of that one, will you ? ' 

Philip's agitation at the confession had brought on 

189 



WESSEX TALES 

another attack of the cough, which seemed to shake 
him to pieces. He was so obviously unfit to sit in 
a chair that they helped him upstairs at once; and 
having hastily given him a cordial and kindled the bed- 
room fire, they descended to fetch their unhappy new 
relations. 



Ill 

It was with strange feelings that the girl and her 
mother, lately so cheerful, passed out of the back door 
into the open air of the barton, laden with hay scents 
and the herby breath of cows. A fine sleet had begun 
to fall, and they trotted across the yard quickly. The 
stable-door was open ; a light shone from it — from the 
lantern which always hung there, and which Philip had 
lighted, as he said. Softly nearing the door, Mrs. Hall 
pronounced the name * Helena ! ' 

There was no answer for the moment. Looking in 
she was taken by surprise. Two people appeared 
before her. For one, instead of the drabbish woman 
she had expected, Mrs. Hall saw a pale, dark-eyed, lady- 
like creature, whose personality ruled her attire rather 
than was ruled by it. She was in a new and handsome 
gown, of course, and an old bonnet. She was standing 
up, agitated ; her hand was held by her companion — 
none else than Sally's affianced. Farmer Charles Darton, 
upon whose fine figure the pale stranger's eyes were 
fixed, as his were fixed upon her. His other hand held 
the rein of his horse, which was standing saddled as if 
just led in. 

At sight of Mrs. Hall they both turned, looking at 
her in a way neither quite conscious nor unconscious, 
and without seeming to recollect that words were neces- 

191 



WESSEX TALES 

sary as a solution to the scene. In another moment 
Sally entered also, when Mr. Darton dropped his com- 
panion's hand, led the horse aside, and came to greet 
his betrothed and Mrs. Hall. 

* Ah ! ' he said, smiling — with something like forced 
composure — * this is a roundabout way of arriving, you 
will say, my dear Mrs. Hall. But we lost our way, 
which made us late. I saw a hght here, and led in my 
horse at once — my friend Johns and my man have gone 
back to the little inn with theirs, not to crowd you too 
much. No sooner had I entered than I saw that this 
lady had taken temporary shelter here — and found I 
was intruding.' 

* She is my daughter-in-law,' said Mrs. Hall calmly. 
' My son, too, is in the house, but he has gone to bed 
unwell.' 

Sally had stood staring wonderingly at the scene 
until this moment, hardly recognizing Barton's shake of 
the hand. The spell that bound her was broken by her 
perceiving the two little children seated on a heap of 
hay. She suddenly went forward, spoke to them, and 
took one on her arm and the other in her hand. 

' And two children ? ' said Mr. Darton, showing thus 
that he had not been there long enough as yet to under- 
stand the situation. 

* My grandchildren,' said Mrs. Hall, with as much 
affected ease as before. 

Philip Hall's wife, in spite of this interruption to 
her first rencounter, seemed scarcely so much affected 
by it as to feel any one's presence in addition to Mr. 
Barton's. However, arousing herself by a quick re- 
flection, she threw a sudden critical glance of her sad 
eyes upon Mrs. Hall; and, apparently finding her satis- 
factory, advanced to her in a meek initiative. Then 
Sally and the stranger spoke some friendly words to 
each other, and Sally went on with the children into 
the house. Mrs. Hall and Helena followed, and Mr. 

192 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

Darton followed these, looking at Helena's dress and 
outline, and listening to her voice like a man in a 
dream. 

By the time the others reached the house Sally had 
already gone upstairs with the tired children. She 
rapped against the wall for Rebekah to come in and 
help to attend to them, Rebekah's house being a little 
• spit-and-dab ' cabin leaning against the substantial stone- 
work of Mrs. Hall's taller erection. When she came a 
bed was made up for the little ones, and some supper given 
to them. On descending the stairs after seeing this done 
Sally went to the sitting-room. Young Mrs. Hall 
entered it just in advance of her, having in the interim 
retired with her mother-in-law to take off her bonnet, 
and otherwise make herself presentable. Hence it was 
evident that no further communication could have 
passed between her and Mr. Darton since their brief 
interview in the stable. 

Mr. Japheth Johns now opportunely arrived, and 
broke up the restraint of the company, after a few 
orthodox meteorological commentaries had passed be- 
tween him and Mrs. Hall by way of introduction. They 
at once sat down to supper, the present of wine and 
turkey not being produced for consumption to-night, 
lest the premature display of those gifts should seem 
to throw doubt on Mrs. Hall's capacities as a provider. 

* Drink hearty, Mr. Johns — drink hearty,' said that 
matron magnanimously. ' Such as it is there's plenty 
of. But perhaps cider-wine is not to your taste? — 
though there's body in it.' 

' Quite the contrairy, ma'am — quite the contrairy,' 
said the dairj'man. ' For though I inherit the malt- 
liquor principle from my father, I am a cider-drinker 
on my mother's side. She came from these parts, you 
know. And there's this to be said for't — 'tis a more 
peaceful liquor, and don't lie about a man like your 
hotter drinks. With care, one may live on it a twelve- 

193 K 



WESSEX TALES 

month without knocking down a neighbour, or getting 
a black eye from an old acquaintance.' 

The general conversation thus begun was continued 
briskly, though it was in the main restricted to Mrs. 
Hall and Japheth, who in truth required but little help 
from anybody. There being slight cair upon Sally's 
tongue, she had ample leisure to do what her heart 
most desired, namely, watch her intended husband and 
her sister-in-law with a view of elucidating the strange 
momentary scene in which her mother and herself had 
surprised them in the stable. If that scene meant 
anything, it meant, at least, that they had met before. 
That there had been no time for explanations Sally 
could see, for their manner was still one of suppressed 
amazement at each other's presence there. Darton's 
eyes, too, fell continually on the gown worn by Helena 
as if this were an added riddle to his perplexity ; though 
to Sally it was the one feature in the case which was 
no mystery. He seemed to feel that fate had impishly 
changed his vis-a-vis in the lover's jig he was about 
to foot; that while the gown had been expected to 
enclose a Sally, a Helena's face looked out from the 
bodice; that some long-lost hand met his own from 
the sleeves. 

Sally could see that whatever Helena might know 
of Darton, she knew nothing of how the dress entered 
into his embarrassment. And at moments the young 
girl would have persuaded herself that Darton's looks 
at her sister-in-law were entirely the fruit of the clothes 
query. But surely at other times a more extensive 
range of speculation and sentiment was expressed by 
her lover's eye than that which the changed dress would 
account for. 

Sally's independence made her one of the least 
jealous of women. But there was something in the 
relations of these two visitors which ought to be 
explained. 

194 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

Japheth Johns continued to converse in his well- 
known style, interspersing his talk with some private 
reflections on the position of Darton and Sally, which, 
though the sparkle in his eye showed them to be highly 
entertaining to himself, were apparently not quite com- 
municable to the company. At last he withdrew for 
the night, going off to the roadside inn half-a-mile 
back, whither Darton promised to follow him in a few 
minutes. 

Half-an-hour passed, and then Mr. Darton also rose 
to leave, Sally and her sister-in-law simultaneously wish- 
ing him good-night as they retired upstairs to their 
rooms. But on his arriving at the front door with Mrs. 
Hall a sharp shower of rain began to come down, when 
the widow suggested that he should return to the fire- 
side till the storm ceased. 

Darton accepted her proposal, but insisted that, as it 
was getting late, and she was obviously tired, she should 
not sit up on his account, since he could let himself out 
of the house, and would quite enjoy smoking a pipe by 
the hearth alone. Mrs. Hall assented ; and Darton was 
left by himself. He spread his knees to the brands, lit 
up his tobacco as he had said, and sat gazing into the 
fire, and at the notches of the chimney-crook which 
hung above. 

An occasional drop of rain rolled down the chimney 
with a hiss, and still he smoked on ; but not like a man 
whose mind was at rest. In the long run, however, 
despite his meditations, early hours afield and a long 
ride in the open air produced their natural result. He 
began to doze. 

How long he remained in this half-unconscious state 
he did not know. He suddenly opened his eyes. The 
back-brand had burnt itself in two, and ceased to flame ; 
the light which he had placed on the mantelpiece had 
nearly, gone out. But in spite of these deficiencies 
there was a light in the apartment, and it came from 

195 



WESSEX TALES 

elsewhere. Turning his head he saw Philip Hall's wife 
standing at the entrance of the room with a bed-candle 
in one hand, a small brass tea-kettle in the other, and 
his gown, as it certainly seemed, still upon her. 

' Helena ! ' said Darton, starting up. 

Her countenance expressed dismay, and her first 
words were an apology. ' I — did not know you were 
here, Mr. Darton,' she said, while a blush flashed to 
her cheek. ' I thought every one had retired — I was 
coming to make a Uttle water boil ; my husband seems 
to be worse. But perhaps the kitchen fire can be 
lighted up again.' 

' Don't go on my account. By all means put it on 
here as you intended,' said Darton. ' Allow me to help 
you.' He went forward to take the kettle from her 
hand, but she did not allow him, and placed it on the 
fire herself. 

They stood some way apart, one on each side of the 
fireplace, waiting till the water should boil, the candle 
on the mantel between them, and Helena with her eyes 
on the kettle. Darton was the first to break the silence. 
' Shall I call Sally ? ' he said. 

' O no,' she quickly returned. ' We have given 
trouble enough already. We have no right here. But 
we are the sport of fate, and were obliged to come.' 

' No right here ! ' said he in surprise. 

*None. I can't explain it now,' answered Helena. 
* This kettle is very slow.' 

There was another pause ; the proverbial dilatoriness 
of watched pots was never more clearly exemplified. 

Helena's face was of that sort which seems to ask 
for assistance without the owner's knowledge — the very 
antipodes of Sally's, which was self-reliance expressed. 
Darton's eyes travelled from the kettle to Helena's face, 
then back to the kettle, then to the face for rather a 
longer time. ' So I am not to know anything of the 
mystery that has distracted me all the evening?' he 

T96 

\ 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

said. ' How is it that a woman, who refused me because 
(as I supposed) my position was not good enough for 
her taste, is found to be the wife of a man who certainly 
seems to be worse off than I ? ' 

' He had the prior claim,' said she. 

* What ! you knew Iiim at that time ? ' 

* Yes, yes ! Please say no more,' she implored. 
' Whatever my errors, I have paid for them during the 
last five years ! * 

The heart of Darton was subject to sudden over- 
flowings. He was kind to a fault. ' I am sorry from 
my soul,' he said, involuntarily approaching her. Helena 
withdrew a step or two, at which he became conscious 
of his movement, and quickly took his former place. 
Here he stood without speaking, and the Uttle kettle 
began to sing. 

' Well, you might have been my wife if you had 
chosen,' he said at last. ' But that's all past and gone. 
However, if you are in any trouble or poverty I shall be 
glad to be of service, and as your relation by marriage 
I shall have a right to be. Does your uncle know of 
your distress ? ' 

' My uncle is dead. He left me without a farthing. 
And now we have two children to maintain.' 

' What, left you nothing ? How could he be so cruel 
as that ? ' 

* I disgraced myself in his eyes.' 

'Now,' said Darton earnestly, 'let me take care of 
the children, at least while you are so unsettled, iou 
belong to another, so I cannot take care of you.' 

'Yes you can,' said a voice; and suddenly a third 
figure stood beside them. It was Sally. ' You can, 
since you seem to wish to ? ' she repeated. ' She no 
longer belongs to another. . . . My poor brother is 
dead ! ' 

Her face was red, her eyes sparkled, and all the 
woman came to the front. ' I have heard it ! ' she 

197 



WESSEX TALES 

went on to him passionately. 'You can protect hei 
now as well as the children ! ' She turned then to her 
agitated sister-in-law. ' I heard something,' said Sally 
(in a gentle murmur, differing much from her previous 
passionate words), * and I went into his room. It must 
have been the moment you left. He went off so quickly, 
and weakly, and it was so unexpected, that I couldn't 
leave even to call you.' 

Darton was just able to gather from the confused 
discourse which followed that, during his sleep by 
the fire, this brother whom he had never seen had 
become worse ; and that during Helena's absence for 
water the end had unexpectedly come. The two young 
women hastened upstairs, and he was again left 
alone. 

After standinsj there a short time he went to the 
front door and looked out ; till, softly closing it behind 
him, he advanced and stood under the large sycamore- 
tree. The stars were flickering coldly, and the damp- 
ness which had just descended upon the earth in rain 
now sent up a chill from it. Darton was in a strange 
position, and he felt it. The unexpected appearance, 
in deep poverty, of Helena — a young lady, daughter of 
a deceased naval officer, who had been brought up by 
her uncle, a solicitor, and had refused Darton in marriage 
years ago — the passionate, almost angry demeanour of 
Sally at discovering them, the abrupt announcement that 
Helena was a widow; all this coming together was a 
conjuncture difficult to cope with in a moment, and 
made him question whether he ought to leave the house 
or offer assistance. But for Sally's manner he would 
unhesitatingly have done the latter. 

He was still standing under the tree when the door 
in front of him opened, and Mrs. Hall came out. She 
went round to the garden-gate at the side without 
seeing him. Darton followed her, intending to speak, 

198 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

Pausing outside, as if in thought, she proceeded to a 
spot where the sun came earliest in spring-time, and 
where the north wind never blew ; it was where the 
row of beehives stood under the wall. Discerning her 
object, he waited till she had accomplished it. 

It was the universal custom thereabout to wake the 
bees by tapping at their hives whenever a death occurred 
in the household, under the behef that if this were not 
done the bees themselves would pine away and perish 
during the ensuing year. As soon as an interior buzzing 
responded to her tap at the first hive Mrs. Hall went 
on to the second, and thus passed down the row. As 
soon as she came back he met her. 

*What can I do in this trouble, Mrs. Hall?' he 
said. 

*0 — nothing, thank you, nothing,' she said in a 
tearful voice, now just perceiving him. 'We have 
called Rebekah and her husband, and they will do 
everything necessary.' She told him in a few words 
the particulars of her son's arrival, broken in health 
— indeed, at death's very door, though they did not 
suspect it — and suggested, as the result of a conversa- 
tion between her and her daughter, that the wedding 
should be postponed. 

*Yes, of course,' said Darton. *I think now to 
go straight to the inn and tell Johns what has hap- 
pened.' It was not till after he had shaken hands 
with her that he turned hesitatingly and added, 'Will 
you tell the mother of his children that, as they are 
now left fatherless, I shall be glad to take the eldest 
of them, if it would be any convenience to her and to 
you ? ' 

Mrs. Hall promised that her son's widow should be 
told of the offer, and they parted. He retired down 
the rooty slope and disappeared in the direction of the 
inn, where he informed Johns of the circumstances. 
Meanwhile Mrs. Hall had entered the house. Sallj 

199 



WESSEX TALES 

was downstairs in the sitting-room alone, and her mother 
explained to her that Darton had readily assented to 
the postponement. 

* No doubt he has,' said Sally, with sad emphasis. 
*It is not put off for a week, or a month, or a year. 
I sh^U never marry him, and she will I ' 



IV 

Time passed, and the household on the Knap became 
again serene under the composing influences of daily 
routine. A desultory, very desultory correspondence, 
dragged on between Sally Hall and Darton, who, not 
quite knowing how to take her petulant words on the 
night of her brother's death, had continued passive thus 
loner, Helena and her children remained at the dairy- 
house, almost of necessity, and Darton therefore deemed 
it advisable to stay away. 

One day, seven months later on, when Mr. Darton 
was as usual at his farm, twenty miles from Hintock, 
a note reached him from Helena. She thanked him 
for his kind offer about her children, which her mother- 
in-law had duly communicated, and stated that she 
would be glad to accept it as regarded the eldest, the 
boy. Helena had, in truth, good need to do so, for 
her uncle had left her penniless, and all application to 
some relatives in the north had failed. There was, 
besides, as she said, no good school near Hintock to 
which she could send the child. 

On a fine summer day the boy came. He was 
accompanied half-way by Sally and his mother — to the 
♦ White Horse,' at Chalk Newton — where he was handed 
over to Darton's bailiff in a shining spring-cart, who 
met them there. 

201 



WESSEX TALES 

He was entered as a day-scholar at a popular school 
at Casterbridge, three or four miles from Barton's, 
having first been taught by Darton to ride a forest- 
pony, on which he cantered to and from the aforesaid 
fount of knowledge, and (as Darton hoped) brought 
away a promising headful of the same at each diurnal 
expedition. The thoughtful taciturnity into which 
Darton had latterly fallen was quite dissipated by the 
presence of this boy. 

When the Christmas holidays came it was arranged 
that he should spend them with his mother. The 
journey was, for some reason or other, performed in 
two stages, as at his coming, except that Darton in 
person took the place of the bailiff, and that the boy 
and himself rode on horseback. 

Reaching the renowned White Horse,' Darton in- 
quired if Miss and young Mrs. Hall were there to 
meet little Philip (as they had agreed to be). He was 
answered by the appearance of Helena alone at the door. 

'At the last moment Sally would not come,' she 
faltered. 

That meeting practically settled the point towards 
which these long-severed persons were converging. 
But nothing was broached about it for some time yet. 
Sally Hall had, in fact, imparted the first decisive 
motion to events by refusing to accompany Helena. 
She soon gave them a second move by writing the 
following note : — 

'[Privafe.] 

* Dear Charles, — Living here so long and intimately with 
Helena, I have naturally learnt her history, especially that of it 
which refers to you. I am sure she would accept you as a husband 
at the proper time, and I think you ought to give her the oppor- 
tunity. You inquire in an old note if I am sorry that I showed 
temper (which it wasn't) that night when I heard you talking to her. 
No, Charles, I am not sorry at all for what I said then.— Yours 
•incerely, Saixy Hall.' 

203 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

Thus set in train, the transfer of Darton's heart back 
to its original quarters proceeded by mere lapse of 
time. In the following July, Darton went to his friend 
Japheth to ask him at last to fulfil the bridal office 
which had been in abeyance since the previous January 
twelvemonths. 

' With all my heart, man o' constancy 1 ' said Dairy- 
man Johns warmly. * I've lost most of my genteel fair 
complexion haymaking this hot weather, 'tis true, but 
I'll do your business as well as them that look better. 
There be scents and good hair-oil in the world yet, 
thank God, and they'll take off the roughest o' my edge. 
I'll compliment her. " Better late than never, Sally 
Hall," I'll say.' 

' It is not Sally,' said Darton hurriedly. ' It is young 
Mrs. Hall.' 

Japheth's face, as soon as he really comprehended, 
became a picture of reproachful dismay. ' Not Sally ? ' 
he said. ' Why not Sally ? I can't believe it ! Young 
Mrs. Hall ! Well, well — whore's your wisdom ? ' 

Darton shortly explained particulars ; but Johns 
would not be reconciled. ' She was a woman worth 
having if ever woman was,' he cried. ' And now to let 
her go ! ' 

' But I suppose I can marry where I like,' said 
Darton. 

' H'm,' replied the dairyman, lifting his eyebrows ex- 
pressively. ' This don't become you, Charles — it really 
do not. If I had done such a thing you would have 
sworn I was a curst no'thern fool to be drawn off the 
scent by such a red-herring doU-oll-oU.' 

Farmer Darton responded in such sharp terms to 
this laconic opinion that the two friends finally parted 
in a way they had never parted before. Johns was to 
be no groomsman to Darton after all. He had flatly 
declined. Darton went off sorry, and even unhappy, 
particularly as Japheth was about to leave that side 

203 



WESSEX TALES 

of the county, so that the words which had divided 
them were not likely to be explained away or softened 
down. 

A short time after the interview Darton was united 
to Helena at a simple matter-of fact wedding; and she 
and her little girl joined the boy who had already grown 
to look on Barton's house as home. 

For some months the farmer experienced an unpre- 
cedented happiness and satisfaction. There had been 
a flaw in his life, and it was as neatly mended as was 
humanly possible. But after a season the stream of 
events followed less clearly, and there were shades in his 
reveries. Helena was a fragile woman, of little staying 
power, physically or morally, and since the time that he 
had originally known her — eight or ten years before — 
she had been severely tried. She had loved herself out, 
in short, and was now occasionally given to moping. 
Sometimes she spoke regretfully of the gentilities of her 
early life, and instead of comparing her present state 
with her condition as the wife of the unlucky Hall, she 
mused rather on what it had been before she took the 
first fatal step of clandestinely marrying him. She did 
not care to please such people as those with whom she 
was thrown as a thriving farmer's wife. She allowed 
the pretty trifles of agricultural domesticity to glide by 
her as sorry details, and had it not been for the children 
Darton's house would have seemed but little brighter 
than it had been before. 

This led to occasional unpleasantness, until Darton 
sometimes declared to himself that such endeavours as 
his to rectify early deviations of the heart by harking 
back to the old point mostly failed of success. ' Per- 
haps Johns was right,' he would say. ' I should have 
gone on with Sally. Better go with the tide and make 
the best of its course than stem it at the risk of a 
capsize.' But he kept these unmelodious thoughts to 
himself, and was outwardly considerate and kind. 

204 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

This somewhat barren tract of his life had extended 
to less than a year and a half when his ponderings were 
cut short by the loss of the woman they concerned. 
When she was in her grave he thought better of her 
than when she had been alive ; the farm was a worse 
place without her than wnth her, after all. No woman 
short of divine could have gone through such an 
experience as hers with her first husband without be- 
coming a little soured. Her stagnant sympathies, her 
sometimes unreasonable manner, had covered a heart 
frank and well meaning, and originally hopeful and 
warm. She left him a tiny red infant in white wrappings. 
To make life as easy as possible to this touching object 
became at once his care. 

As this child learnt to walk and talk Darton learnt to 
see feasibility in a scheme which pleased him. Revolv- 
ing the experiment which he had hitherto made upon 
life, he fancied he had gained wisdom from his mistakes 
and caution from his miscarriages. 

What the scheme was needs no penetration to dis- 
cover. Once more he had opportunity to recast and 
rectify his ill-wrought situations by returning to Sally 
Hall, who still lived quietly on under her mother's roof 
at Hintock. Helena had been a woman to lend pathos 
and refinement to a home; Sally was the woman to 
brighten it. She would not, as Helena did, despise the 
rural simplicities of a farmer's fireside. Moreover, she 
had a pre-eminent qualification for Barton's household ; 
no other woman could make so desirable a mother to 
her brother's two children and Barton's one as Sally — 
while Barton, now that Helena had gone, wajs a more 
promising husband for Sally than he had ever been 
when liable to reminders from an uncured sentimental 
wound. 

Barton was not a man to act rapidly, and the work- 
ing out of his reparative designs might have been delayed 
for some time. But there came a winter evening pr©" 

205 



WESSEX TALES 

cisely like the one which had darkened over that former 
ride to Hintock, and he asked himself why he should 
postpone longer, when the very landscape called for a 
repetition of that attempt. 

He told his man to saddle the mare, booted and 
spurred himself with a younger horseman's nicety, 
kissed the two youngest children, and rode off. To 
make the journey a complete parallel to the first, he 
would fain have had his old acquaintance Japheth 
Johns with him. But Johns, alas 1 was missing. His 
removal to the other side of the county had left unre- 
paired the breach which had arisen between him and 
Darton ; and though Darton had forgiven him a hundred 
times, as Johns had probably forgiven Darton, the effort 
of reunion in present circumstances was one not likely 
to be made. 

He screwed himself up to as cheerful a pitch as he 
could without his former crony, and became content 
with his own thoughts as he rode, instead of the words 
of a companion. The sun went down; the boughs 
appeared scratched in like an etching against the sky ; 
old crooked men with faggots at their backs said 
'Good-night, sir,' and Darton replied * Good-night' 
right heartily. 

By the time he reached the forking roads it was 
getting as dark as it had been on the occasion when 
Johns climbed the directing-post. Darton made no 
mistake this time. ' Nor shall I be able to mistake, 
thank Heaven, when I arrive,' he murmured. It gave 
him peculiar satisfaction to think that the proposed 
marriage, like his first, was of the nature of setting in 
order things long awry, and not a momentary freak of 
fancy. 

Nothing hindered the smoothness of his journey, 
which seemed not half its former length. Though 
dark, it was only between five and six olclock when the 
bulky chimneys of Mrs. Hall's residence appeared in 

2o6 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

view behind the sycamore-tree. On second thoughts 
he retreated and put up at the ale-house as in former 
time ; and when he had plumed himself before the inn 
mirror, called for something to drink, and smoothed 
out the incipient wrinkles of care, he walked on to the 
Knap with a quick step. 



1 HAT evening Sally was making ' pinners ' for the 
milkers, who were now increased by two, for her mother 
and herself no longer joined in milking the cows them- 
selves. But upon the whole there was little change in 
the household economy, and not much in its appearance, 
beyond such minor particulars as that the crack over 
the window, which had been a hundred years coming, 
was a trifle wider ; that the beams were a shade blacker ; 
that the influence of modernism had supplanted the 
open chimney corner by a grate; that Rebekah, who 
had worn a cap when she had plenty of hair, had left it 
off now she had scarce any, because it was reported that 
caps were not fashionable; and that Sally's face had 
naturally assumed a more womanly and experienced cast. 

Mrs. Hall was actually lifting coals with the tongs, 
as she had used to do. 

* Five years ago this very night, if I am not mis- 
taken ' she said, laying on an ember. 

' Not this very night — though 'twas one night this 
week,' said the correct Sally. 

' Well, 'tis near enough. Five years ago Mr. Darton 
came to marry you, and my poor boy Phil came home 
to die.' She sighed 'Ah, Sally,' she presently said, 
* if you had managed well Mr. Darton would have had 
you, Helena or none.' 

208 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

•Don't be sentimental about that, mother,' begged 
Sally. * I didn't care to manage well in such a case. 
Though I Uked him, I wasn't so anxious. I would 
never have married the man in the midst of such a 
hitch as that was,' she added with decision; 'and I 
don't think I would if he were to ask me now.* 

• I am not sure about that, unless you have another 
in your eye.' 

• I wouldn't ; and I'll tell you why. I could hardly 
marry him for love at this time o' day. And as we've 
quite enough to live on if we give up the dairy to- 
morrow, I should have no need to marry for any meaner 
reason. ... I am quite happy enough as I am, and 
there's an end of it.' 

Now it was not long after this dialogue that there 
came a mild rap at the door, and in a moment there 
entered Rebekah, looking as though a ghost had 
arrived. The fact was that that accomplished skimmer 
and churner (now a resident in the house) had over- 
heard the desultory observations between mother and 
daughter, and on opening the door to Mr. Darton 
thought the coincidence must have a grisly meaning in 
it. Mrs. Hall welcomed the farmer with warm surprise, 
as did Sally, and for a moment they rather wanted 
words. 

• Can you push up the chimney-crook for me, Mr. 
Darton ? the notches hitch,' said the matron. He did 
it, and the homely little act bridged over the awkward 
consciousness that he had been a stranger for four years. 

Mrs. Hall soon saw what he had come for, and left 
the principals together while she went to prepare him 
a late tea, smiling at Sally's recent hasty assertions of 
indifierence, when she saw how civil Sally was. When 
tea was ready she joined them. She fancied that Darton 
did not iDok so confident as when he had arrived ; 
but Sally vas quite light-hearted, and the meal passed 
pleasantly. 

209 O 



WESSEX TALES 

About seven he took his leave of them. Mrs. Hall 
went as far as the door to light him down the slope. 
On the doorstep he said frankly — 

* I came to ask your daughter to marry me ; chose 
the night and everything, with an eye to a favourable 
answer. But she won't.' 

' Then she's a very ungrateful girl I * emphatically 
said Mrs. Hall. 

Darton paused to shape his sentence, and asked, • I 
— I suppose there's nobody else more favoured ? ' 

« I can't say that there is, or that there isn't,' answered 
Mrs. Hall. 'She's private in some things. I'm on 
your side, however, Mr. Darton, and I'll talk to her.* 

« Thank 'ee, thank 'ee ! ' said the farmer in a gayer 
accent ; and with this assurance the not very satisfactory 
visit came to an end. Darton descended the roots of 
the sycamore, the light was withdrawn, and the door 
closed. At the bottom of the slope he nearly ran 
against a man about to ascend. 

' Can a jack-o'-lent behave his few senses on such a 
dark night, or can't he ? ' exclaimed one whose utterance 
Darton recognized in a moment, despite its unexpected- 
ness. ' I dare not swear he can, though I fain would ! ' 
The speaker was Johns. 

Darton said he was glad of this opportunity, bad as 
it was, of putting an end to the silence of years, and 
asked the dairyman what he was travelling that way for. 
Japheth showed the old jovial confidence in a 
moment. * I'm going to see your — relations — as they 
always seem to me,' he said — ' Mrs. Hall and Sally. 
Well, Charles, the fact is I find the natural barbarous- 
ness of man is much increased by a bachelor life, and, 
as your leavings were always good enough for me, I'm 
trying civilization here.' He nodded towards the house. 
* Not with Sally — to marry her ? ' said Darton, 
feeling something like a rill of ice water between his 
shoulders. 

axo 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

•Yes, by the help of Providence and my personal 
charms. And I think I shall get her. I am this road 
every week — my present dairy is only four miles off, you 
know, and I see her through the window, 'Tis rather 
odd that I was going to speak practical to-night to her 
for the first time. You've just called ? ' 

' Yes, for a short while. But she didn't say a word 
about you.' 

*A good sign, a good sign. Now that decides me. 
I'll swing the mallet and get her answer this very night 
as I planned.' 

A few more remarks, and Darton, wishing his friend 
joy of Sally in a slightly hollow tone of jocularity, bade 
him good-bye. Johns promised to write particulars, 
and ascended, and was lost in the shade of the house 
and tree. A rectangle of light appeared when Johns 
was admitted, and all was dark again. 

* Happy Japheth ! ' said Darton. * This then is the 
explanation ! ' 

He determined to return home that night. In a 
quarter of an hour he passed out of the village, and 
the next day went about his swede-lifting and storing 
as if nothing had occurred. 

He waited and waited to hear from Johns whether 
the wedding-day was fixed : but no letter came. He 
learnt not a single particular till, meeting Johns one 
day at a horse-auction, Darton exclaimed genially — 
rather more genially than he felt — ' When is the joyful 
day to be ? * 

To his great surprise a reciprocity of gladness was 
not conspicuous in Johns. *Not at all,' he said, in a 
very subdued tone. * 'Tis a bad job ; she won't have 
me.' 

Darton held his breath till he said with treacherous 
solicitude, 'Try again — 'tis coyness.' 

*0 no,' said Johns decisively. 'There's been none 
of that. We talked it over dozens of times in the most 

211 



WESSEX TALES 

fair and square way. She tells me plainly, I don't suit 
her. 'Twould be simply annoying her to ask her again. 
Ah, Charles, you threw a prize away when you let her 
slip five years ago.' 

' I did — I did,' said Darton. 

He returned from that auction with a new set of 
feelings in play. He had certainly made a surprising 
mistake in thinking Johns his successful rival. It really 
seemed as if he might hope for Sally after all. 

This time, being rather pressed by business, Darton 
had recourse to pen-and-ink, and wrote her as manly 
and straightforward a proposal as any woman could 
wish to receive. The reply came promptly : — 

'Dear Mr. Darton, — I am as sensible as any woman can be 
of the goodness that leads you to make me this offer a second time. 
Better women than I would be proud of the honour, for when I 
read your nice long speeches on mangold-wurzel, and such like 
topics, at the Casterbridge Farmers' Club, I do feel it an honour, I 
assure you. But my answer is just the same as before. I will not 
try to explain what, in truth, I cannot explain — my reasons ; I will 
simply say that I must decline to be married to you. With good 
wishes as in former times, I am, your faithful friend, 

' Sally Hall.' 

Darton dropped the letter hopelessly. Beyond the 
negative, there was just a possibility of sarcasm in it 
— ' nice long speeches on mangold-wurzel ' had a sus- 
picious sound. However, sarcasm or none, there was 
the answer, and he had to be content. 

He proceeded to seek relief in a business which at 
this time engrossed much of his attention — that of clear- 
ing up a curious mistake just current in the county, 
that he had been nearly ruined by the recent failure of 
a local bank. A farmer named Darton had lost heavily, 
and the similarity of name had probably led to the error. 
Belief in it was so persistent that it demanded several 
days of letter-writing to set matters straight, and per- 

212 



I 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

suade the world that he was as solvent as ever he had 
been in his Ufe. He had hardly concluded this worry- 
ing task when, to his delight, another letter arrived in 
the handwriting of Sally. 

Darton tore it open ; it was very short. 

' Dear Mr. Darton, — We have been so alarmed these last few 

days by the report that you were ruined by the stoppage of 's 

Bank, that, now it is contradicted I hasten, by my mother's wish, 
to say how truly glad we are to find there is no foundation for the 
report. After your kindness to my poor brother's children, I can 
do no less than write at such a moment. We had a letter from 
each of them a few days ago. — Your faithful friend, 

* Sali.y Hall.' 

* Mercenary little woman ! ' said Darton to himself 
with a smile. * Then that was the secret of her refusal 
this time — she thought I was ruined.' 

Now, such was Darton, that as hours went on he 
could not help feeling too generously towards Sally to 
condemn her in this. What did he want in a wife? 
he asked himself. Love and integrity. What next? 
Worldly wisdom. And was there really more than 
worldly wisdom in her refusal to go aboard a sinking 
ship? She now knew it was otherwise. 'Begad,' he 
said, * I'll try her again.' 

The fact was he had so set his heart upon Sally, and 
Sally alone, that nothing was to be allowed to baulk 
him ; and his reasoning was purely formal. 

Anniversaries having been unpropitious, he waited 
on till a bright day late in May — a day when all animate 
nature was fancying, in its trusting, foolish way, that it 
was going to bask out of doors for evermore. As he 
rode through Long-Ash Lane it was scarce recognizable 
as the track of his two winter journeys. No mistake 
could be made now, even with his eyes shut. The 
cuckoo's note was at its best, between April tentative- 
ness and midsummer decrepitude, and the reptiles in 

21.^ 



WESSEX TALES 

the sun behaved as winningly as kittens on a hearth. 
Though afternoon, and about the same time as on the 
last occasion, it was broad day and sunshine when he 
entered Hintock, and the details of the Knap dairy- 
house were visible far up the road. He saw Sally in 
the garden, and was set vibrating. He had first in- 
tended to go on to the inn ; but ' No,' he said ; ' I'll 
tie my horse to the garden-gate. If all goes well it can 
soon be taken round : if not, I mount and ride away.' 

The tall shade of the horseman darkened the room 
in which Mrs. Hall sat, and made her start, for he had 
ridden by a side path to the top of the slope, where 
riders seldom came. In a few seconds he was in the 
garden with Sally. 

Five— ay, three minutes — did the business at the 
back of that row of bees. Though spring had come, 
and heavenly blue consecrated the scene, Darton suc- 
ceeded not. 'No,' said Sally firmly. 'I will never, 
never marry you, Mr. Darton. I would have done it 
once ; but now I never can.' 

• But ! ' — implored Mr. Darton. And with a burst of 
real eloquence he went on to declare all sorts of things 
that he would do for her. He would drive her to see 
her mother every week — take her to London — settle so 
much money upon her — Heaven knows what he did not 
promise, suggest, and tempt her with. But it availed 
nothing. She interposed with a stout negative, which 
closed the course of his argument like an iron gate 
across a highway. Darton paused. 

•Then,' said he simply, «you hadn't heard of my 
supposed failure when you declined last time ? ' 

• I had not,* she said. ' But if I had 'twould have 
been all the same.' 

• And 'tis not because of any soreness from my 
slighting you years ago ? ' 

' No. That soreness is long past.* 
' Ah — then you despise me, Sally I ' 

214 



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP 

• No,* she slowly answered. ' I don't altogether 
despise you. I don't think you quite such a hero as 
I once did — that's all. The truth is, I am happy 
enough as I am; and I don't mean to marry at all. 
Now, may / ask a favour, sir ? ' She spoke with an 
ineffable charm, which, whenever he thought of it, made 
him curse his loss of her as long as he lived. 

*To any extent' 

'Please do not put this question to me any more. 
Friends as long as you like, but lovers and married 
never.* 

' I never will,' said Darton. ' Not if I live a hundred 
years.' 

And he never did. That he had worn out his 
welcome in her heart was only too plain. 

When his step-children had grown up, and were 
placed out in life, all communication between Darton 
and the Hall family ceased. It was only by chance 
that, years after, he learnt that Sally, notwithstanding 
the solicitations her attractions drew down upon her, 
had refused several offers of marriage, and steadily 
adhered to her purpose of leading a single life. 

May 1884. 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 



HOW HIS COLD WAS CURED 



Something delayed the arrival of the Wesleyan 
minister, and a young man came temporarily in his 
stead. It was on the thirteenth of January 183- that 
Mr. Stockdale, the young man in question, made his 
humble entry into the village, unknown, and almost 
unseen. But when those of the inhabitants who styled 
themselves of his connection became acquainted with 
him, they were rather pleased with the substitute than 
otherwise, though he had scarcely as yet acquired 
ballast of character sufficient to steady the consciences 
of the hundred-and-forty Methodists of pure blood who, 
at this time, lived in Nether-Moynton, and to give in 
addition supplementary support to the mixed race 
which went to church in the morning and chapel in 
the evening or when there was a tea — as many as a 
hundred-and-ten people more, all told, and including 
the parish-clerk in the winter-time, when it was too 
dark for the vicar to observe who passed up the street 
at seven o'clock — which, to be just to him, he was 
never anxious to do. 

It was owing to this overlapping of creeds that the 
celebrated population-puzzle arose among the denser 

219 



WESSEX TALES 

gentry of the district around Nether-Moynton : how 
could it be that a parish containing fifteen score of 
strong full-grown Episcopalians, and nearly thirteen 
score of well-matuied Dissenters, numbered barely two- 
and-twenty score adults in all ? 

The young man being personally interesting, those 
with whom he came in contact were content to waive 
for a while the graver question of his sufficiency. It 
is said that at this time of his life his eyes were 
affectionate, though without a ray of levity; that his 
hair was curly, and his figure tall; that he was, in 
short, a very lovable youth, who won upon his female 
hearers as soon as they saw and heard him, and caused 
them to say, 'Why didn't we know of this before he 
came, that w,q might have gied him a warmer welcome ! ' 

The fact was that, knowing him to be only pro- 
visionally selected, and expecting nothing remarkable in 
his person or doctrine, they and the rest of his flock 
in Nether-Moynton had felt almost as indifferent about 
his advent as if they had been the soundest church- 
going parishioners in the country, and he their true 
and appointed parson. Thus when Stockdale set foot 
in the place nobody had secured a lodging for him, and 
though his journey had given him a bad cold in the 
head, he was forced to attend to that business himself. 
On inquiry he learnt that the only possible accommoda- 
tion in the village would be found at the house of one 
Mrs. Lizzy Newberry, at the upper end of the street. 

It was a youth who gave this information, and 
Stockdale asked him who Mrs. Newberry might be. 

The boy said that she was a widow-woman, who 
had got no husband, because he was dead. Mr. New- 
berry, he added, had been a well-to-do man enough, 
as the saying was, and a farmer ; but he had gone off 
in a decline. As regarded Mrs. Newberry's serious side, 
Stockdale gathered that she was one of the trimmers 
who went to church and chapel both. 

220 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

'I'll go there,' said Stockdale, feeling that, in the 
absence of purely sectarian lodgings, he could do no 
better. 

' She's a little particular, and won't hae gover'ment 
folks, or curates, or the pa'son's friends, or such like,' 
said the lad dubiously. 

' Ah, that may be a promising sign : I'll call. Or 
no ; just you go up and ask first if she can find room 
for me. I have to see one or two persons on another 
matter. You will find me down at the carrier's.' 

In a quarter of an hour the lad came back, and said 
that Mrs. Newberry would have no objection to accom- 
modate him, whereupon Stockdale called at the house. 
It stood within a garden-hedge, and seemed to be 
roomy and comfortable. He saw an elderly woman, 
with whom he made arrangements to come the same 
night, since there was no inn in the place, and he 
wished to house himself as soon as possible ; the village 
being a local centre from which he was to radiate at 
once to the different small chapels in the neighbourhood. 
He forthwith sent his luggage to Mrs. Newberry's from 
the carrier's, where he had taken shelter, and in the 
evening walked up to his temporary home. 

As he now lived there, Stockdale felt it unnecessary 
to knock at the door ; and entering quietly he had the 
pleasure of hearing footsteps scudding away like mice 
into the back quarters. He advanced to the parlour, 
as the front room was called, though its stone floor 
was scarcely disguised by the carpet, which only over- 
laid the trodden areas, leaving sandy deserts under the 
furniture. But the room looked snug and cheerful. 
The firelight shone out brightly, trembling on the 
bulging mouldings of the table-legs, playing with brass 
knobs and handles, and lurking in great strength on 
the urider surface of the chimney-piece. A deep 
arm-chair, covered with horsehair, and studded with 
a countless throng of brass nails, was pulled up on 

331 



WESSEX TALES 

one side of the fireplace. The tea-things were on the 
table, the teapot cover was open, and a little hand- 
bell had been laid at that precise point towards which 
a person seated in the great chair might be expected 
instinctively to stretch his hand. 

Stockdale sat down, not objecting to his experience 
of the room thus far, and began his residence by tink- 
ling the bell. A little girl crept in at the summons, 
and made tea for him. Her name, she said, was 
Marther Sarer, and she lived out there, nodding towards 
the road and village generally. Before Stockdale had 
got far with his meal, a tap sounded on the door 
behind him, and on his telling the inquirer to come 
in, a rustle of garments caused him to turn his head. 
He saw before him a fine and extremely well-made 
young woman, with dark hair, a wide, sensible, beautiful 
forehead, eyes that warmed him before he knew it, and 
a mouth that was in itself a picture to all appreciative 
souls. 

* Can I get you anything else for tea ? ' she said, 
coming forward a step or two, an expression of liveliness 
on her features, and her hand waving the door by 
its edge. 

'Nothing, thank you,' said Stockdale, thinking less 
of what he replied than of what might be her relation 
to the household. 

* You are quite sure ? ' said the young woman, appa- 
rently aware that he had not considered his answer. 

He conscientiously examined the tea-things, and found 
them all there. ' Quite sure. Miss Newberry,' he said. 

*It is Mrs. Newberry,' she said. 'Lizzy Newberry. 
I used to be Lizzy Simpkins.' 

' O, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Newberry.' And before 
he had occasion to say more she left the room. 

Stockdale remained in some doubt till Martha Sarah 
came to clear the table. 'Whose house is this, my 
little woman,' said he. 

222 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

' Mrs. Lizzy Newberry's, sir.' 

* Then Mrs. Newberry is not the old lady I saw this 
afternoon ? ' 

' No. That's Mrs. Newberry's mother. It was Mrs. 
Newberry who corned in to you just by now, because 
she wanted to see if you was good-looking.' 

Later in the evening, when Stockdale was about to 
begin supper, she came again. ' I have come myself, 
Mr. Stockdale,' she said. The minister stood up in 
acknowledgment of the honour. ' I am afraid little 
Marther might not make you understand. What will 
you have for supper? — there's cold rabbit, and there's 
a ham uncut.' 

Stockdale said he could get on nicely with those 
viands, and supper was laid. He had no more than 
cut a slice when tap-tap came to the door again. The 
minister had already learnt that this particular rhythm 
in taps denoted the fingers of his enkindling landlady, 
and the doomed young fellow buried his first mouthful 
under a look of receptive blandness. 

* We have a chicken in the house, Mr. Stockdale — I 
quite forgot to mention it just now. Perhaps you would 
like Marther Sarer to bring it up ? ' 

Stockdale had advanced far enough in the art of 
being a young man to say that he did not want the 
chicken, unless she brought it up herself; but when it 
was uttered he blushed at the daring gallantry of the 
speech, perhaps a shade too strong for a serious man 
and a minister. In three minutes the chicken appeared, 
but, to his great surprise, only in the hands of Martha 
Sarah. Stockdale was disappointed, which perhaps it 
was intended that he should be. 

He had finished supper, and was not in the least 
anticipating Mrs. Newberry again that night, when she 
tapped and entered as before. Stockdale's gratified look 
told that she had lost nothing by not appearing when 
expected. It happened that the cold in the head from 

223 



WESSEX TALES 

which the young man suffered had increased with the 
approach of night, and before she had spoken he was 
seized with a violent fit of sneezing which he could not 
anyhow repress. 

Mrs. Newberry looked full of pity. ' Your cold is 
very bad to-night, Mr. Stockdale.' 

Stockdale replied that it was rather troublesome. 

' And I've a good mind ' — she added archly, looking 
at the cheerless glass of water on the table, which the 
abstemious minister was going to drink. 

' Yes, Mrs. Newberry ? ' 

* I've a good mind that you should have something 
more Hkely to cure it than that cold stuff.' 

'Well,' said Stockdale, looking down at the glass, 
* as there is no inn here, and nothmg better to be got 
in the village, of course it will do.' 

To this she replied, ' There is something better, not 
far off, though not in the house. I really think you 
must try it, or you may be ill. Yes, Mr. Stockdale, 
you shall.' She held up her finger, seeing that he was 
about to speak. ' Don't ask what it is ; wait, and you 
shall see.' 

Lizzy went away, and Stockdale waited in a pleasant 
mood. Presently she returned with her bonnet and 
cloak on, saying, ' I am so sorry, but you must help 
me to get it. Mother has gone to bed. Will you 
wrap yourself up, and come this way, and please bring 
that cup with you ? ' 

Stockdale, a lonely young fellow, who had for weeks 
felt a great craving for somebody on whom to throw 
away superfluous interest, and even tenderness, was 
not sorry to join her ; and followed his guide through 
the back door, across the garden, to the bottom, where 
the boundary was a wall. This wall was low, and 
beyond it Stockdale discerned in the night shades 
several grey headstones, and the outlines of the church 
roof and tower. 

224 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

•It is easy to get up this way,' she said, stepping 
upon a bank which abutted on the wall ; then putting 
her foot on the top of the stonework, and descending 
by a spring inside, where the ground was much higher, 
as is the manner of graveyards to be. Stockdale did 
the same, and followed her in the dusk across the 
irregular ground till they came to the tower door, which, 
when they had entered, she softly closed behind them. 

* You can keep a secret ? ' she said, in a musical 
voice. 

< Like an iron chest ! ' said he fervently. 

Then from under her cloak she produced a small 
lighted lantern, which the minister had not noticed 
that she carried at all. The light showed them to be 
close to the singing-gallery stairs, under which lay a 
heap of lumber of all sorts, but consisting mostly of 
decayed framework, pews, panels, and pieces of flooring, 
that from time to time had been removed from their 
original fixings in the body of the edifice and replaced 
by new. 

' Perhaps you will drag some of those boards aside ? ' 
she said, holding the lantern over her head to light 
him better. 'Or will you take the lantern while I 
move them ? ' 

* I can manage it,' said the young man, and acting 
as she ordered, he uncovered, to his surprise, a row of 
little barrels bound with wood hoops, each barrel being 
about as large as the nave of a heavy waggon-wheel. 
When they were laid open Lizzy fixed her eyes on him, 
as if she wondered what he would say. 

* You know what they are ? ' she asked, finding that 
he did not speak. 

'Yes, barrels,' said Stockdale simply. He was an 
inland man, the son of highly respectable parents, and 
brought up with a single eye to the ministry ; and the 
sight suggested nothing beyond the fact that such 
articles were there. 

2^5 P 



u^ 



WESSEX TALES 

• You are quite right, they are barrels,' she said, in 
an emphatic tone of candour that was not without a 
touch of irony. 

Stockdale looked at her with an eye of sudden mis- 
giving. ' Not smugglers' liquor ? ' he said. 

' Yes,' said she. ' They are tubs of spirit that have 
accidentally come over in the dark from France.' 

In Nether-Moynton and its vicinity at this date 
people always smiled at the sort of sin called in the 
outside world illicit trading; and these little kegs of 
gin and brandy were as well known to the inhabitants 
as turnips. So that Stockdale's innocent ignorance, 
and his look of alarm when he guessed the sinister 
mystery, seemed to strike Lizzy first as ludicrous, and 
then as very awkward for the good impression that she 
wished to produce upon him. 

' Smuggling is carried on here by some of the people,' 
she said in a gentle, apologetic voice. 'It has been 
their practice for generations, and they think it no harm. 
Now, will you roll out one of the tubs ? ' 

• What to do with it ? ' said the minister. 

'To draw a little from it to cure your cold,' she 
answered. 'It is so 'nation strong that it drives away 
that sort of thing in a jiffy. O, it is all right about 
our taking it. I may have what I like; the owner of 
the tubs says so. I ought to have had some in the 
house, and then I shouldn't ha' been put to this 
trouble ; but I drink none myself, and so I often forget 
to keep it indoors.' 

'You are allowed to help yourself, I suppose, that 
you may not inform where their hiding-place is ? ' 

'Well, no; not that particularly; but I may take any 
if I want it. So help yourself.' 

' I will, to oblige you, since you have a right to it,' 
murmured the minister; and though he was not quite 
satisfied with his part in the performance, he rolled one 
of the * tubs ' out from the corner into the middle of the 

226 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

tower floor. ' How do you wish me to get it out — with 
a gimlet, I suppose ? ' 

' No, I'll show you,' said his interesting companion ; 
and she held up with her other hand a shoemaker's awl 
and a hammer. ' You must never do these things with 
a gimlet, because the wood-dust gets in ; and when the 
buyers pour out the brandy that would tell them that 
the tub had been broached. An awl makes no dust, 
and the hole nearly closes up again. Now tap one of 
the hoops forward.' 

Stockdale took the hammer and did so. 

« Now make the hole in the part that was covered by 
the hoop.' 

He made the hole as directed. * It won't run out,' 
he said. 

•O yes it will,' said she. 'Take the tub between 
your knees, and squeeze the heads ; and I'll hold the 
cup.' 

Stockdale obeyed; and the pressure taking effect 
upon the tub, which seemed to be thin, the spirit 
spirted out in a stream. When the cup was full he 
ceased pressing, and the flow immediately stopped. 
' Now we must fill up the keg with water,' said Lizzy, 
' or it will cluck like forty hens when it is handled, and 
show that 'tis not full' 

♦ But they tell you you may take it ? ' 

'Yes, the smugglers ; but the buyers must not know 
that the smugglers have been kind to me at their 
expense.' 

' I see,' said Stockdale doubtfully. * I much question 
the honesty of this proceeding.' 

By her direction he held the tub with the hole 
upwards, and while he went through the process of 
alternately pressing and ceasing to press, she produced 
a bottle of water, from which she took mouthfuls, con- 
veying each to the keg by putting her pretty lips to the 
hole, where it was sucked in at each recovery of the 

227 



WESSEX TALES 

cask from pressure. WTien it was again full he plugged 
the hole, knocked the hoop down to its place, and 
buried the tub in the lumber as before. 

' Aren't the smugglers afraid that you will tell ? ' he 
asked, as they recrossed the churchyard. 

' O no ; they are not afraid of that. I couldn't do 
such a thing.' 

'They have put you into a very awkward corner,' 
said Stockdale emphatically. ' You must, of course, as 
an honest person, sometimes feel that it is your duty 
to inform — really you must.' 

' Well, I have never particularly felt it as a duty ; 

and, besides, my first husband ' She stopped, and 

there was some confusion in her voice. Stockdale was 
so honest and unsophisticated that he did not at once 
discern why she paused : but at last he did perceive 
that the words were a slip, and that no woman would 
have uttered * first husband ' by accident unless she 
had thought pretty frequently of a second. He felt 
for her confusion, and allowed her time to recover and 
proceed. * My husband,' she said, in a self-corrected 
tone, 'used to know of their doings, and so did my 
father, and kept the secret. I cannot inform, in fact, 
against anybody.' 

' I see the hardness of it,' he continued, like a man 
who looked far into the moral of things. ' And it is 
very cruel that you should be tossed and tantalized 
between your memories and your conscience. I do 
hope, Mrs. Newberry, that you will soon see your way 
out of this unpleasant position.' 

' Well, I don't just now,' she murmured. 

By this time they had passed over the wall and 
entered the house, where she brought him a glass and 
hot water, and left him to his own reflections. He 
looked after her vanishing form, asking himself whether 
he, as a respectable man, and a minister, and a shining 
light, even though as yet only of the halfpenny-candle 

228 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

sort, were quite justified in doing this thing. A sneeze 
settled the question; and he found that when the fiery 
Uquor was lowered by the addition of twice or thrice 
the quantity of water, it was one of the prettiest cures 
for a cold in the head that he had ever known, parti- 
cularly at this chilly time of the year. 

Stockdale sat in the deep chair about twenty minutes 
sipping and meditating, till he at length took warmer 
views of things, and longed for the morrow, when he 
would see Mrs. Newberry again. He then felt that, 
though chronologically at a short distance, it would in 
an emotional sense be very long before to-morrow 
came, and walked restlessly round the room. His eye 
was attracted by a framed and glazed sampler in which 
a running ornament of fir-trees and peacocks surrounded 
the following pretty bit of sentiment : — 

' Rose-leaves smell when roses thrive, 
Here's ray work while I'm alive ; 
Rose-leaves smell when shrunk and shed. 
Here's tny work when I am dead. 

* Lizzy Simpkins. Fear God. Honour the King. 
'Aged II years,' 

* 'Tis hers,' he said to himself. * Heavens, how I 
like that name ! ' 

Before he had done thinking that no other name 
from Abigail to Zenobia would have suited his young 
landlady so well, tap-tap came again upon the door; 
and the minister started as her face appeared yet 
another time, looking so disinterested that the most 
ingenious would have refrained from asserting that she 
had come to affect his feelings by her seductive eyes. 

' Would you like a fire in your room, Mr. Stockdale, 
on account of your cold ? ' 

The minister, being still a little pricked in the con- 
science for countenancing her in watering the spirits, 

229 



WESSEX TALES 

saw here a way to self-chastisement. • No, I thank you,' 
he said firmly ; ' it is not necessary. I have never been 
used to one in my life, and it would be giving way to 
luxury too far.' 

'Then I won't insist,' she said, and disconcerted 
him by vanishing instantly. 

Wondering if she was vexed by his refusal, he wished 
that he had chosen to have a fire, even though it should 
have scorched him out of bed and endangered his self- 
discipline for a dozen days. However, he consoled 
himself with what was in truth a rare consolation for 
a budding lover, that he was under the same roof with 
Lizzy ; her guest, in fact, to take a poetical view of the 
term lodger; and that he would certainly see her on 
the morrow. 

The morrow came, and Stockdale rose early, his cold 
quite gone. He had never in his life so longed for the 
breakfast hour as he did that day, and punctually at 
eight o'clock, after a short walk, to reconnoitre the 
premises, he re-entered the door of his dwelling. Break- 
fast passed, and Martha Sarah attended, but nobody 
came voluntarily as on the night before to inquire if 
there were other wants which he had not mentioned, 
and which she would attempt to gratify. He was dis- 
appointed, and went out, hoping to see her at dinner. 
Dinner time came ; he sat down to the meal, finished 
it, lingered on for a whole hour, although two new 
teachers were at that moment waiting at the chapel-door 
to speak to him by appointment. It was useless to 
wait longer, and he slowly went his way down ihe lane, 
cheered by the thought that, after all, he would see her 
in the evening, and perhaps engage again in the de- 
lightful tub-broaching in the neighbouring church tower, 
which proceeding he resolved to render more moral by 
steadfastly insisting that no water should be introduced 
to fill up, though the tub should cluck like all the hens 
in Christendom. But nothing could disgxiise the fact 

230 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

that it was a queer business ; and his countenance fell 
when he thought how much more his mind was interested 
in that matter than in his serious duties. 

However, compunction vanished with the decline 
of day. Night came, and his tea and supper ; but no 
Lizzy Newberry, and no sweet temptations. At last 
the minister could bear it no longer, and said to his 
quaint little attendant, 'Where is Mrs. Newberry to- 
day ? ' judiciously handing a penny as he spoke. 

• She's busy,' said Martha. 

« Anything serious happened ? ' he asked, handing 
another penny, and revealing yet additional pennies in 
the background. 

' O no — nothing at all ! ' said she, with breathless 
confidence. ' Nothing ever happens to her. She's 
only biding upstairs in bed because 'tis her way some- 
times.' 

Being a young man of some honour, he would not 
question further, and assuming that Lizzy must have a 
bad headache, or other slight ailment, in spite of what 
the girl had said, he went to bed dissatisfied, not even 
setting eyes on old Mrs. Simpkins. ' I said last night 
that I should see her to-morrow,' he reflected; 'but 
that was not to be ! ' 

Next day he had better fortune, or worse, meeting 
her at the foot of the stairs in the morning, and being 
favoured by a visit or two from her during the day — 
once for the purpose of making kindly inquiries about 
his comfort, as on the first evening, and at another time 
to place a bunch of winter-violtts on his table, with a 
promise to renew them when they drooped. On these 
occasions there was something in her smile which showed 
how conscious she was of the effect she produced, though 
it must be said that it was rather a humorous than a 
designing consciousness, and savoured more of pride 
than of vanity. 

As for Stock dale, he clearly perceived that he pos- 

231 



WES'SEX TALES 

sessed unlimited capacity for backsliding, and wished 
that tutelary saints were not denied to Dissenters. He 
set a watch upon his tongue and eyes for the space of 
one hour and a half, after which he found it was useless 
to struggle further, and gave himself up to the situation. 
' The other minister will be here in a month,' he said to 
himself when sitting over the fire. * Then I shall be off, 
and she will distract my mind no more 1 . . . And then, 
shall I go on living by myself for ever ? No ; when my 
two years of probation are finished, I shall have a 
furnished house to live in, with a varnished door and 
a brass knocker; and I'll march straight back to her, 
and ask her flat, as soon as the last plate is on the 
dresser ! * 

Thus a titillating fortnight was passed by young 
Stockdale, during which time things proceeded much 
as such matters have done ever since the beginning of 
history. He saw the object of attachment several times 
one day, did not see her at all the next, met her when 
he least expected to do so, missed her when hints and 
signs as to where she should be at a given hour almost 
amounted to an appointment. This mild coquetry was 
perhaps fair enough under the circumstances of their 
being so closely lodged, and Stockdale put up with it as 
philosophically as he was able. Being in her own house, 
she could, after vexing him or disappointing him of 
her presence, easily win him back by suddenly surround- 
ing him with those little attentions which her position 
as his landlady put it in her power to bestow. When 
he had waited indoors half the day to see her, and on 
finding that she would not be seen, had gone off in a 
huff to the dreariest and dampest walk he could discover, 
she would restore equilibrium in the evening with ' Mr. 
Stockdale, I have fancied you must feel draught o' nights 
from your bedroom window, and so I have been putting 
up thicker curtains this afternoon while you were out ; ' 
or, ' I noticed that you sneezed twice again this morning, 

233 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

Mr. Stockdale. Depend upon it that cold is hanging 
about you yet; I am sure it is — I have thought of it 
continually; and you must let me make a posset for 
you.' 

Sometimes in coming home he found his sitting-room 
rearranged, chairs placed where the table had stood, and 
the table ornamented with the few fresh flowers and 
leaves that could be obtained at this season, so as to 
add a novelty to the room. At times she would be 
standing on a chair outside the house, trying to nail up 
a branch of the monthly rose which the winter wind had 
blown down ; and of course he stepped forward to assist 
her, when their hands got mixed in passing the shreds 
and nails. Thus they became friends again after a dis- 
agreement. She would utter on these occasions some 
pretty and deprecatory remark on the necessity of her 
troubling him anew ; and he would straightway say that 
he would do a hundred times as much for her if she 
should so require. 



BOW HE SAW TWO OTHER MEf) 



II 



JVlATTERS being in this advancing state, Stockdale 
was nither surprised one cloudy evening, while sitting 
in his room, at hearing her speak in low tones of ex- 
postulation to some one at the door. It was nearly 
dark, but the shutters were not yet closed, nor the 
candles lighted ; and Stockdale was tempted to stretch 
his head towards the window. He saw outside the 
door a young man in clothes of a whitish colour, and 
upon reflection judged their wearer to be the well- 
built and rather handsome miller who lived below. 
The miller's voice was alternately low and firm, and 
sometimes it reached the level of positive entreaty ; but 
what the words were Stockdale could in no way hear. 

Before the colloquy had ended, the minister's atten- 
tion was attracted by a second incident. Opposite 
Lizzy's home grew a clump of laurels, forming a thick 
and permanent shade. One of the laurel boughs now 
quivered against the light background of sky, and in a 
moment the head of a man peered out, and remained 
still. He seemed to be also much interested in the 
conversation at the door, and was plainly lingering 
there to watch and listen. Had Stockdale stood in 

234 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

any other relation to Lizzy than that of a lover, he 
might have gone out and investigated the meaning of 
this : but being as yet but an unprivileged ally, he did 
nothing more than stand up and show himself against 
the firelight, whereupon the Ustener disappeared, and 
Lizzy and the miller spoke in lower tones. 

Stockdale was made so uneasy by the circumstance, 
that as soon as the miller was gone, he said, 'Mrs. 
Newberry, are you aware that you were watched just 
now, and your conversation heard ? ' 

* When ? ' she said. 

'When you were talking to that miller. A man 
was looking from the laurel-tree as jealously as if he 
could have eaten you.' 

She showed more concern than the trifling event 
seemed to demand, and he added, ' Perhaps you were 
talking of things you did not wish to be overheard ? ' 

♦ I was talking only on business,' she said. 

' Lizzy, be frank ! ' said the young man. ' If it was 
only on business, why should anybody wish to Usten 
to you?* 

She looked curiously at him. 'What else do you 
think it could be, then ? ' 

< Well — the only talk between a young woman and 
man that is likely to amuse an eavesdropper.' 

*Ah yes,' she said, smiling in spite of her pre- 
occupation. 'Well, my cousin Owlett has spoken to 
me about matrimony, every now and then, that's true ; 
but he was not speaking of it then. I wish he had 
been speaking of it, with all my heart. It would have 
been much less serious for me.' 

' O Mrs. Newberry ! ' 

♦It would. Not that I should ha' chimed in with 
him, of course. I wish it for other reasons. I am 
glad, Mr. Stockdale, that you have told me of that 
listener. It is a timely warning, and I must see my 
cousin again.' 

235 



WESSEX TALES 

•But don't go away till I have spoken,' said the 
minister. * I'll out with it at once, and make no more 
ado. Let it be Yes or No between us, Lizzy ; please 
do ! * And he held out his hand, in which she freely 
allowed her own to rest, but without speaking. 

' You mean Yes by that ? ' he asked, after waiting a 
while. 

' You may be my sweetheart, if you will.' 

' Why not say at once you will wait for me until I 
have a house and can come back to marry you.' 

' Because I am thinking — thinking of something 
else,' she said with embarrassment, ' It all comes upon 
me at once, and I must settle one thing at a time.' 

' At any rate, dear Lizzy, you can assure me that 
the miliar shall not be allowed to speak to you except 
on business ? You have never directly encouraged 
him ? ' 

She parried the question by saying, • You see, he and 
his party have been in the habit of leaving things on my 
premises sometimes, and as I have not denied him, it 
makes him rather forward.' 

' Things — what things ? ' 

' Tubs — they are called Things here.' 

' But why don't you deny him, my dear Lizzy ? ' 

' I cannot well.' 

' You are too timid. It is unfair' of him to impose 
so upon you, and get your good name into danger by 
his smuggling tricks. Promise me that the next time 
he wants to leave his tubs here you will let me roll tb .m 
into the street ? ' 

She shook her head. ' I would not venture to offend 
the neighbours so much as that,' said she, *or do any- 
thing that would be so likely to put poor Owlett into 
the hands of the excisemen.' 

Stockdale sighed, and said that he thought hers a 
mistaken generosity when it extended to assisting those 
who cheated the king of his dues. * At any rate, you 

236 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

will let me make him keep his distance as your lover, 
and tell him flatly that you are not for him ? ' 

' Please not, at present,' she said. * I don't wish to 
offend my old neighbours. It is not only Owlett who 
is concerned.' 

' This is too bad,' said Stockdale impatiently. 

' On my honour, I won't encourage him as my 
lover,' Lizzy answered earnestly. * A reasonable man 
will be satisfied with that.' 

'Well, so I am,' said Stockdale, his countenance 
clearing. 



THE MYSTERIOUS GREATCOAT 



III 



Stock DALE now began to notice more particularly 
a feature in the life of his fair landlady, which he had 
casually observed but scarcely ever thought of before. 
It was that she was markedly irregular in her hours 
of rising. For a week or two she would be tolerably 
punctual, reaching the ground-floor within a few minutes 
of half-past seven. Then suddenly she would not be 
visible till twelve at noon, perhaps for three or four days 
in succession ; and twice he had certain proof that she 
did not leave her room till half-past three in the after- 
noon. The second time that this extreme lateness 
came under his notice was on a day when he had 
particularly wished to consult with her about his future 
movements ; and he concluded, as he always had done, 
that she had a cold, headache, or other ailment, unless 
she had kept herself invisible to avoid meeting and 
talking to him, which he could hardly believe. The 
former supposition was disproved, however, by her 
innocently saying, some days later, when they were 
speaking on a question of health, that she had never 
had a moment's heaviness, headache, or illness of any 
kind since the previous January twelvemonth. 

2^8 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

•I am glad to hear it,' said he. 'I thought quite 
otherwise.' 

' What, do I look sickly ? ' she asked, turning up 
her face to show the impossibility of his gazing on it 
and holding such a belief for a moment. 

' Not at all ; I merely thought so from your being 
sometimes obhged to keep your room through the best 
part of the day.' 

'O, as for that — it means nothing,' she murmured, 
with a look which some might have called cold, and 
which was the worst look that he liked to see upon her. 
' It is pure sleepiness, Mr. Stockdale.' 

' Never ! ' 

* It is, I tell you. When I stay in my room till half- 
pnst three in the afternoon, you may always be sure 
that I slept soundly till three, or I shouldn't have 
stayed there.' 

' It is dreadful,' said Stockdale, thinking of the 
disastrous effects of such indulgence upon the house- 
hold of a minister, should it become a habit of everyday 
occurrence. 

' But then,' she said, divining his good and prescient 
thoughts, ' it only happens when I stay awake all night. 
I don't go to sleep till five or six in the morning 
sometimes.' 

' Ah, that's another matter,' said Stockdale. ' Sleep- 
lessness to such an alarming extent is real illness. 
Have you spoken to a doctor ? ' 

' O no — there is no need for doing that — it is all 
natural to me.' And she went away without further 
remark. 

Stockdale might have waited a long time to know 
the real cause of her sleeplessness, had it not happened 
that one dark night he was sitting in his bedroom 
jotting down notes for a sermon, which occupied him 
perfunctorily for a considerable time after the other 
members of the household had retired. He did not 

239 



WESSEX TALES 

get to bed till one o'clock. Before he had fallen asleep 
he heard a knocking at the front door, first rather timidly 
performed, and then louder. Nobody answered it, and 
the person knocked again. As the house still remained 
undisturbed, Stockdale got out of bed, went to his 
window, which overlooked the door, and opening it, 
asked who was there. 

A young woman's voice replied that Susan WaUis 
was there, and that she had come to ask if Mrs. 
Newberry could give her some mustard to make a 
plaster with, as her father was taken very ill on the 
chest. 

The minister, having neither bell nor servant, was 
compelled to act in person. * I will call Mrs. New- 
berry,' he said. Partly dressing himself, he went along 
the passage and tapped at Lizzy's door. She did not 
answer, and, thinking of her erratic habits in the matter 
of sleep, he thumped the door persistently, when he 
discovered, by its moving ajar under his knocking, that 
it had only been gently pushed to. As there was now 
a sufificient entry for the voice, he knocked no longer, 
but said in firm tones, ' Mrs. Newberry, you are 
wanted.' 

The room was quite silent; not a breathing, not a 
rustle, came from any part of it. Stockdale now sent 
a positive shout through the open space of the door : 
' Mrs. Newberry ! ' — still no answer, or movement of any 
kind within. Then he heard sounds from the opposite 
room, that of Lizzy's mother, as if she had been aroused 
by his uproar though Lizzy had not, and was dressing 
herself hastily. Stockdale softly closed the younger 
woman's door and went on to the other, which was 
opened by Mrs. Simpkins before he could reach it. 
She was in her ordinary clothes, and had a light in 
her hand. 

' What's the person calling about ? ' she said in 
alarm. 

240 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

Stockdale told the girl's errand, adding seriously, * I 
cannot wake Mrs. Newberry.' 

' It is no matter,' said her mother. ' I can let the 
girl have what she wants as well as my daughter.' And 
she came out of the room and went downstairs, 

Stockdale retired towards his own apartment, saying, 
however, to Mrs. Simpkins from the landing, as if on 
second thoughts, * I suppose there is nothing the matter 
with Mrs. Newberry, that I could not wake her ? ' 

' O no,' said the old lady hastily. 'Nothing at all.' 

Still the minister was not satisfied. 'Will you go 
in and see ? ' he said. ' I should be much more at 
ease.' 

Mrs. Simpkins returned up the staircase, went to her 
daughter's room, and came out again almost instantly. 
' There is nothing at all the matter with Lizzy,' she 
said; and descended again to attend to the applicant, 
who, having seen the light, had remained quiet during 
this interval. 

Stockdale went into his room and lay down as before. 
He heard Lizzy's mother open the front door, admit 
the girl, and then the murmured discourse of both as 
they went to the store-cupboard for the medicament 
required. The girl departed, the door was fastened, 
Mrs. Simpkins came upstairs, and the house was again 
in silence. Still the minister did not fall asleep. He 
could not get rid of a singular suspicion, which was all 
the more harrassing in being, if true, the most unac- 
countable thing within his experience. That Lizzy 
Newberry was in her bedroom when he made such a 
clamour at the door he could not possibly convince 
himself, notwithstanding that he had heard her come 
upstairs at the usual time, go into her chamber, and 
shut herself up in the usual way. Yet all reason was 
so much against her being elsewhere, that he was con- 
strained to go back ag:an to the unlikely theory of a 
heavy sleep, though he had heard neither breath nor 

241 q 



WESSEX TALES 

movement during a shouting and knocking loud enough 
to rouse the Seven Sleepers. 

Before coming to any positive conclusion he fell 
asleep himself, and did not awake till day. He saw 
nothing of Mrs. Newberry in the morning, before he 
went out to meet the rising sun, as he liked to do when 
the weather was fine; but as this was by no means 
unusual, he took no notice of it. At breakfast-lime he 
knew that she was not far off by hearing her in the 
kitchen, and though he saw nothing of her person, that 
back apartment being rigorously closed against his eyes, 
she seemed to be talking, ordering, and bustling about 
among the pots and skimmers in so ordinary a manner, 
that there was no reason for his wasting more time in 
fruitless surmise. 

The minister suffered from these distractions, and 
his extemporized sermons were not improved thereby. 
Already he often said Romans for Corinthians in the 
pulpit, and gave out hymns in strange cramped metres, 
that hitherto had always been skipped, because the con- 
gregation could not raise a tune to fit them. He fully 
resolved that as soon as his few .weeks of stay approached 
their end he would cut the matter short, and commit 
himself by proposing a definite engagement, repenting at 
leisure if necessary. 

With this end in view, he suggested to her on the 
evening after her mysterious sleep that they should take 
a walk together just before dark, the latter part of the 
proposition being introduced that they might return 
home unseen. She consented to go; and away they 
went over a stile, to a shrouded footpath suited for the 
occasion. But, in spite of attempts on both sides, they 
were unable to infuse much spirit into the ramble. She 
looked rather paler than usual, and sometimes turned 
her head away. 

' Lizzy,' said Stockdale reproachfully, when they had 
walked in silence a long distance. 

242 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

*Yes,' said she. / 

'You yawned — much my company is to yoi/l ' He 
put it in that way, but he was really wondering whethei 
her yawn could possibly have more to do with physical 
weariness from the night before than mental weariness 
of that present moment. Lizzy apologized, and owned 
that she was rather tired, which gave him an opening 
for a direct question on the point; but his modesty 
would not allow him to put it to her ; and he uncom- 
fortably resolved to wait. 

The month of February passed with alternations of 
nmd and frost, rain and sleet, east winds and north- 
westerly gales. The hollow places in the ploughed 
fields showed themselves as pools of water, which had 
settled there from the higher levels, and had not yet 
found time to soak away. The birds began to get 
lively, and a single thrush came just before sunset each 
evening, and sang hopefully on the large elm-tree which 
stood nearest to Mrs. Newberry's house. Cold blasts 
and brittle earth had given place to an oozing dampness 
more unpleasant in itself than frost; but it suggested 
coming spring, and its unpleasantness was of a bearable 
kind. 

Stockdale had been going to bring about a practical 
understanding with Lizzy at least half-a-dozen times ; 
but, what with the mystery of her apparent absence 
on the night of the neighbour's call, and her curious 
way of lying in bed at unaccountable times, he felt a 
check within him whenever he wanted to speak out. 
Thus they still lived on as indefinitely affianced lovers, 
each of whom hardly acknowledged the other's claim 
to the name of chosen one. Stockdale persuaucd him- 
self that his hesitation was owing to the postponement 
of the ordained minister's arrival, and the consequent 
delay in his own departure, which did away with all 
necessity for haste in his courtship ; but perhaps it 
was only that his discretion was reasserting itself, and 

843 



WESSEX TALES 

telling him that he had better get clearer ideas of Lizzy 
before arranging for the grand contract of his life with 
her. She, on her part, always seemed ready to be 
urged further on that question than he had hitherto 
attempted to go; but she was none the less inde- 
pendent, and to a degree which would have kept from 
flagging the passion of a far more mutable man. 

On the evening of the first of March he went 
casually into his bedroom about dusk, and noticed 
lying on a chair a greatcoat, hat, and breeches. Having 
no recollection of leaving any clothes of his own in 
that spot, he went and examined them as well as he 
could in the twilight, and found that they did not 
belong to him. He paused for a moment to consider 
how they might have got there. He was the only man 
living in the house ; and yet these were not his garments, 
unless he had made a mistake. No, they were not his. 
He called up Martha Sarah. 

' How did these things come in ray room ? ' he said, 
flinging the objectionable articles to the floor. 

Martha said that Mrs. Newberry had given them to 
her to brush, and that she had brought them up there 
thinking they must be Mr. Stockdale's, as there was no 
other gentleman a-lodging there. 

' Of course you did,' said Stockdale. ' Now take 
them down to your mis'ess, and say they are some 
clothes I have found here and know nothing about.' 

As the door was left open he heard the conversation 
downstairs. ' How stupid ! ' said Mrs. Newberry, in a 
tone of confusion. ' Why, Marther Sarer, I did not tell 
you to take 'em to Mr. Stockdale's room ? ' 

' I thought they must be his as they was so muddy,* 
said Martha humbly. 

'You should have left 'em on the clothes-horse,' 
said the young mistress severely; and she came up- 
stairs with the garments on her arm, quickly passed 
Stockdale's room, and threw them forcibly into a closet 

244 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

at the end of a passage. With this the incident ended, 
and the house was silent again. 

There would have been nothing remarkable in find- 
ing such clothes in a widow's house had they been 
clean ; or moth-eaten, or creased, or mouldy from long 
lying by ; but that they should be splashed with recent 
mud bothered Stockdale a good deal. When a young 
pastor is in the aspen stage of attachment, and open 
to agitation at the merest trifles, a really substantial 
incongruity of this complexion is a disturbing thing. 
However, nothing further occurred at that time; but 
he became watchful, and given to conjecture, and was 
unable to forget the circumstance. 

One morning, on looking from his window, he saw 
Mrs. Newberry herself brushing the tails of a long 
drab greatcoat, which, if he mistook not, was the very 
same garment as the one that had adorned the chair 
of his room. It was densely splashed up to the hollow 
of the back with neighbouring Nether-Moynton mud, to 
judge by its colour, the spots being distinctly visible to 
him in the sunlight. The previous day or two having 
been wet, the inference was irresistible that the wearer 
had quite recently been walking some considerable dis- 
tance about the lanes and fields. Stockdale opened 
the window and looked out, and Mrs. Newberry turned 
her head. Her face became slowly red; she never 
had looked prettier, or more incomprehensible. He 
waved his hand affectionately, and said good-morning; 
she answered with embarrassment, having ceased her 
occupation on the instant that she saw him, and rolled 
up the coat half-cleaned. 

Stockdale shut the window. Some simple explana- 
tion of her proceeding was doubtless within the bounds 
of possibility ; but he himself could not think of one ; 
and he wished that she had placed the matter beyond 
conjecture by voluntarily saying something about it 
there and then. 

»4S 



WESSEX TALES 

But, though Lizzy had not offered an explanation at 
the moment, the subject was brought forward by her at 
the next time of their meeting. She was chatting to 
him concerning some other event, and remarked that it 
happened about the time when she was dusting some 
old clothes that had belonged to her poor husband. 

' You keep them clean out of respect to his memory ? ' 
said Stockdale tentatively. 

' I air and dust them sometimes,' she said, with the 
most charming innocence in the world. 

' Do dead men come out of their graves and walk in 
mud ? ' murmured the minister, in a cold sweat at the 
deception that she was practising. 

* What did you say ? ' asked Lizzy. 

* Nothing, nothing,' said he mournfully. ' Mere 
words — a phrase that will do for my sermon next 
Sunday.' It was too plain that Lizzy was unaware that 
he had seen actual pedestrian splashes upon the skirts 
of the tell tale overcoat, and that she imagined him to 
believe it had come direct from some chest or drawer. 

The aspect of the case was now considerably darker. 
St^okdale was so much depressed by it that he did not 
cnallenge her explanation," or threaten to go off as a 
missionary to benighted islanders, or reproach her in 
any way whatever. He simply parted from her when 
she had done talking, and lived on in perplexity, till by 
degrees his natural manner became sad and constrained. 



«_' 



AT THE TIME OF THE NEW MOON 

IV 

1 HE following Thursday was changeable, damp, and 
gloomy; and the night threatened to be windy and 
unpleasant. Stockdale had gone away to KnoUsea in 
the morning, to be present at some commemoration 
service there, and on his return he was met by the 
attractive Lizzy in the passage. Whether influenced 
by the tide of cheerfulness which had attended him 
that day, or by the drive through the open air, or 
whether from a natural disposition to let bygones 
alone, he allowed himself to be fascinated into forget- 
fulness of the greatcoat incident, and upon the whole 
passed a pleasant evening; not so much in her society 
as within sound of her voice, as she sat talking in the 
back parlour to her mother, till the latter went to bed. 
Shortly after this Mrs. Newberrj' retired, and then 
Stockdale prepared to go upstairs himself But before 
he left the room he remained standing by the dying 
embers awhile, thinking long of one thing and another; 
and was only aroused by the flickering of his candle 
in the socket as it suddenly declined and went out. 
Knowing that there were a tinder-box, matches, and 
another candle in his bedroom, he felt his way upstairs 
x 247 



WESSEX TALES 

without a light. On reaching his chamber he laid his 
hand on every possible ledge and corner for the tinder- 
box, but for a long time in vain. Discovering it at 
length, Stockdale produced a spark, and was kindling 
the brimstone, when he fancied that he heard a move- 
ment in the passage. He blew harder at the lint, the 
match flared up, and looking by aid of the blue light 
through the door, which had been standing open all 
this time, he was surprised to see a male figure vanish- 
ing round the top of the staircase with the evident 
intention of escaping unobserved. The personage wore 
the clothes which Lizzy had been brushing, and some- 
thing in the outline and gait suggested to the minister 
that the wearer was Lizzy herself. 

But he was not sure of this; and, greatly excited, 
Stockdale determined to investigate the mystery, and 
to adopt his own way for doing it. He blew out the 
match without lighting the candle, went into the passage, 
and proceeded on tiptoe towards Lizzy's room. A faint 
grey square of light in the direction of the chamber- 
window as he approached told him that the door was 
open, and at once suggested that the occupant was gone. 
He turned and brought down his fist upon the handrail 
of the staircase : * It was she ; in her late husband's 
coat and hat 1 ' 

Somewhat relieved to find that there was no intruder 
in the case, yet none the less surprised, the minister 
crept down the stairs, softly put on his boots, overcoat, 
and hat, and tried the front door. It was fastened as 
usual : he went to the back door, found this unlocked, 
and emerged into the garden. The night was mild and 
moonless, and rain had lately been falling, though for 
the present it had ceased. There was a sudden dropping 
from the trees and bushes every now and then, as each 
passing wind shook their boughs. Among these sounds 
Stockdale heard the faint fall of feet upon the road 
outside, and he guessed from the step that it was 

248 



1-,' 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 



Lizzy's. He followed the sound, and, helped by the 
circumstance of the wind blomng from the direction 
in which the pedestrian moved, he got nearly close to 
her, and kept there, without risk of being overheard. 
While he thus followed her up the street or lane, as it 
might indifferently be called, there being more hedge 
than houses on either side, a figure came forward to her 
from one of the cottage doors. Lizzy stopped; the 
minister stepped upon the grass and stopped also. 

' Is that Mrs. Newberry ? ' said the man who had 
come out, whose voice Stockdale recognized as that of 
one of the most devout members of his congregation. 

♦ It is,' said Lizzy. 

* I be quite ready — I've been here this quarter-hour.* 
*Ah, John,' said she, •! have bad news; there is 

danger to-night for our venture.' 

* And d'ye tell o't ! I dreamed there might be.' 

♦ Yes,' she said hurriedly ; ' and you must go at once 
round to where the chaps are waiting, and tell them they 
will not be wanted till to-morrow night at the same time. 
I go to burn the lugger off.' 

' I will,' he said ; and instantly went off through a 
gate, Lizzy continuing her way. 

On she tripped at a quickening pace till the lane 
turned into the turnpike-road, which she crossed, and 
got into the track for Ringsworth. Here she ascended 
the hill without the least hesitation, passed the lonely 
hamlet of Holworth, and went down the vale on the 
other side. Stockdale had never taken any extensive 
walks in this direction, but he was aware that if she 
persisted in her course much longer she would draw 
near to the coast, which was here between two and 
three miles distant from Nether-Moynton ; and as it 
had been about a quarter-past eleven o'clock when they 
set out, her intention seemed to be to reach the shore 
about midnight. 

Lizzy soon ascended a small mound, which Stockdale 

249 



WESSEX TALES 

at the same time adroitly skirted on the left ; and a dull 
monotonous roar burst upon his ear. The hillock was 
about fifty yards from the top of the cliffs, and by day 
it apparently commanded a full view of the bay. There 
was light enough in the sky to show her disguised figure 
against it when she reached the top, where she paused, 
and afterwards sat down. Stockdale, not wishing on 
any account to alarm her at this moment, yet desirous 
of being near her, sank upon his hands and knees, crept 
a little higher up, and there stayed still. 

The wind was chilly, the ground damp, and his 
position one in which he did not care to remain long. 
However, before he had decided to leave it, the young 
man heard voices behind him. What they signified he 
did not know; but, fearing that Lizzy was in danger, 
he was about to run forward and warn her that she 
might be seen, when she crept to the shelter of a little 
bush which maintained a precarious existence in that 
exposed spot ; and her form was absorbed in its dark 
and stunted outline as if she had become part of it. 
She had evidently heard the men as w^ell as he. They 
passed near him, talking in loud and careless tones, 
which could be heard above the uninterrupted washings 
of the sea, and which suggested that they were not 
engaged in any business at their own risk. This proved 
to be the fact: some of their words floated across to 
him, and caused him to forget at once the coldness of 
his situation, 

« What's the vessel ? * 

* A lugger, about fifty tons.' 

* From Cherbourg, I suppose ? * 

* Yes, 'a b'lieve.' 

* But it don't all belong to Owlett ? * 

* O no. He's only got a share. There's another or 
tvro in it — a farmer and such like, but the names I 
don't know.' 

The voices died away, and the heads and shoulders 

250 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

of the men diminished towards the cliff, and dropped 
out of sight. 

' My darling has been tempted to buy a ^are by 
that unbeliever Owlett,' groaned the minister, his honest 
affection for Lizzy having quickened to its intensest 
point during these moments of risk to her person and 
name. 'That's why she's here,' he said to himself. 
' O, it will be the ruin of her ! ' 

His perturbation was interrupted by the sudden 
bursting out of a bright and increasing light from the 
spot where Lizzy was in hiding. A few seconds later, 
and before it had reached the height of a blaze, he 
heard her rush past him down the hollow like a stone 
from a sling, in the direction of home. The light now 
flared high and wide, and showed its position clearly. 
She had kindled a bough of furze and stuck it into the 
bush under which she had been crouching ; the wind 
fanned the flame, which crackled fiercely, and threatened 
to consume the bush as well as the bough. Stockdale 
paused just long enough to notice thus much, and then 
follov/ed rapidly the route taken by the young woman. 
His intention was to overtake her, and reveal himself 
as a friend ; but run as he would he could see nothing 
of her. Thus he flew across the open country about 
Holworth, twisting his legs and ankles in unexpected 
fissures and descents, till, on coming to the gate between 
the downs and the road, he was forced to pause to get 
breath. There was no audible movement either in front 
or behind him, and he now concluded that she had not 
outrun him, but that, hearing him at her heels, and 
believing him one of the excise party, she had hidden 
herself somewhere on the way, and let him pass by. 

He went on at a more leisurely pace towards the 
village. On reaching the house he found his surmise 
to be correct, for the gate was on the latch, and tlie 
door unfastened, just as he had left them. Stockdale 
closed the door behind him, and waited silently in the 

251 



WESSEX TALES 

passage. In about ten minutes he heard the same light 
footstep that he had heard in going out ; it paused at 
the gate, which opened and shut softly, and then the 
door-latch was lifted, and Lizzy came in. 

Stockdale went forward and said at once, 'Lizzy, 
don't be frightened. I have been waiting up for you.' 

She started, though she had recognized the voice. 
' It is Mr. Stockdale, isn't it ? ' she said; 

♦Yes,' he answered, becoming angry now that she 
was safe indoors, and not alarmed. ' And a nice game 
I've found you out in to-night. You are in man's clothes, 
and I am ashamed of you ! ' 

Lizzy could hardly find a voice to answer this un- 
expected reproach. 

* I am only partly in man's clothes,' she faltered, 
shrinking back to the wall. ' It is only his greatcoat 
and hat and breeches that I've got on, which is no 
harm, as he was my own husband; and I do it only 
because a cloak blows about so, and you can't use your 
arms. I have got my own dress under just the same — 
it is only tucked in ! Will you go away upstairs and let 
me pass ? I didn't want you to see me at such a time 
as this ! * 

* But I have a right to see you ! How do you think 
there can be anything between us now?' Lizzy was 
silent. ' You are a smuggler,' he continued sadly. 

' I have only a share in the run,' she said. 

'That makes no difference. Whatever did you 
engage in such a trade as that for, and keep it such a 
secret from me all this time ? ' 

' I don't do it always. I only do it in winter-time 
when 'tis new moon.' 

'Well, I suppose that's because it can't be done 
anywhen else. . . . You have regularly upset me, 
Lizzy.' 

' I am sorry for that,' Lizzy meekly replied. 

* Well now,' said he more tenderly, ' no harm is done 

252 



1-- 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHXR 



as yet. Won't you for the sake of me give up this 
blamable and dangerous practice altogether ? ' 

«I must do my best to save this run,' said she, 
getting rather husky in the throat. 'I don't want to 
give you up — you know that ; but I don't want to lose 
my venture. I don't know what to do now ! Why I 
have kept it so secret from you is that I was afraid you 
would be angry if you knew.' 

* I should think so ! I suppose if I had married you 
without finding this out you'd have gone on with it just 
the same ? ' 

«I don't know. I did not think so far ahead. I 
only went to-night to burn the folks off, because we 
found that the excisemen knew where the tubs were to 
be landed.' 

' It is a pretty mess to be in altogether, is this,' said 
the distracted young minister. « Well, what will you do 
now ? ' 

Lizzy slowly murmured the particulars of their plan, 
the chief of which were that they meant to try their luck 
at some other point of the shore the next night; that 
three landing-places were always agreed upon before 
the run was attempted, with the understanding that, 
if the vessel was * burnt off ' from the first point, which 
was Ringsvvorth, as it had been by her to-night, the 
crew should attempt to make the second, which was 
Lulstead Cove, on the second night ; and if there, too, 
danger threatened, they should on the third night try the 
third place, which was behind a headland further west. 

'Suppose the officers hinder them landing there 
too?' he said, his attention to this interesting pro- 
gramme displacing for a moment his concern at her 
share in it. 

'Then we shan't try anywhere else all this dark — 
that's what we call the time between moon and moon 
— and perhaps they'll string the tubs to a stray-line, 
and sink 'em a Uttle-ways from shore, and take the 

253 



WESSEX TALES 

bearings; and then when they have a chance they'll 
go to creep for 'em.' 

' What's that ? ' 

' O, they'll go out in a boat and drag a creeper — 
that's a grapnel — along the bottom till it catch hold of 
the stray-line.' 

The minister stood thinking; and there was no 
sound within doors but the tick of the clock on the 
stairs, and the quick breathing of Lizzy, partly from 
her walk and partly from agitation, as she stood close 
to the wall, not in such complete darkness but that 
he could discern against its whitewashed surface the 
greatcoat and broad hat which covered her. 

' Lizzy, all this is very wrong,' he said. * Don't you 
remember the lesson of the tribute-money ? " Render 
unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Surely you 
have heard that read times enough in your growing up ? ' 

' He's dead,' she pouted. 

• But the spirit of the text is in force just the same.' 

* My father did it, and " so did my grandfather, and 
almost everybody in Nether-Moynton lives by it, and 
life would be so dull if it wasn't for that, that I should 
not care to live at all.' 

*I am nothing to live for, of course,' he replied 
bitterly. ' You would not think it worth while to give 
up this wild business and live for me alone ? ' - 

' I have never looked at it like that.' 

' And you won't promise and wait till I am ready ? ' 

' I cannot give you my word to-night.' And, look- 
ing thoughtfully down, she gradually moved and moved 
away, going into the adjoining room, and closing the 
door between them. She remained there in the dark 
till he was tired of waiting, and had gone up to his 
own chamber. 

Poor Stockdale was dreadfully depressed all the 
next day by the discoveries of the night before. Lizzy 
was unmistakably a fascinating young woman, but as 

2.54 



*— f" 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

a minister's wife she was hardly to be contemplated. 
' If I had only stuck to father's little grocery business, 
instead of going in for the ministry, she would have 
suited me beautifully ! ' he said sadly, until he remem- 
bered that in that case he would never have come from 
his distant home to Nether-Moynton, and never have 
known her. 

The estrangement between them was not complete, 
but it was sufficient to keep them out of each other's 
company. Once during the day he met her in the 
garden-path, and said, turning a reproachful eye upon 
her, ' Do you promise, Lizzy ? ' But she did not reply. 
The evening drew on, and he knew well enough that 
Lizzy would repeat her excursion at night — her half- 
offended manner had shown that she had not the 
slightest intention of altering her plans at present. He 
did not wish to repeat his own share of the adventure ; 
but, act as he would, his uneasiness on her account 
increased with the decline of day. Supposing that 
an accident should befall her, he would never forgive 
himself for not being there to help, much as he dis- 
liked the idea of seeming to countenance such unlawful 
escapades. 



HOW THEY WENT TO 

LULSTEAD COVE 



As he had expected, she left the house at the same 
hour at night, this time passing his door without stealth, 
as if she knew very well that he would be watching, 
and were resolved to brave his displeasure. He was 
quite ready, opened the door quickly, and reached the 
back door almost as soon as she. 

'Then you will go, Lizzy?' he said as he stood on 
the step beside her, who now again appeared as a little 
man with a face altogether unsuited to his clothes. 

• I must,' she said, repressed by his stern manner. 

• Then I shall go too,' said he. 

• And I am sure you will enjoy it ! ' she exclaimed 
in more buoyant tones. 'Everybody does who tries 
it.' 

• God forbid that I should ! ' he said. ' But I must 
look after you.' 

They opened the wicket and went up the road 
abreast of each other, but at some distance apart, 
scarcely a word passing between them. The evening 
was rather less favourable to smuggling enterprise than 
the last had been, the wind being lower, and the sky 
somewhat clear towards the north. 

256 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

• It is rather lighter,' said Stockdale. 

* 'Tis, unfortunately,' said she. ' But it is only frcm 
those few stars over there. The moon was new to-day 
at four o'clock, and I expected clouds. I hope we 
shall be able to do it this dark, for when we have to 
sink 'era for long it makes the stuff taste bleachy, and 
folks don't like it so well.' 

Her course was difierent from that of the preceding 
night, branching off to the left over Lord's Barrow as 
soon as they had got out of the lane and crossed the 
highway. By the time they reached Chaldon Down, 
Stockdale, who had been in perplexed thought as to 
what he should say to her, decided that he would not 
attempt expostulation now, while she was excited by 
the adventure, but wait till it was over, and endeavour 
to keep her from such practices in future. It occurred 
to him once or twice, as they rambled on, that should 
they be surprised by the excisemen, his situation would 
be more awkward than hers, for it would be difficult to 
prove his true motive in coming to the spot; but the 
risk was a slight consideration beside his wish to be 
with her. 

They now arrived at a ravine which lay on the 
outskirts of Chaldon, a village two miles on their way 
towards the point of the shore they sought. Lizzy 
broke the silence this time : ' I have to wait here to 
meet the carriers. I don't know if they have come 
yet. As I told you, we go to Lulstead Cove to-night, 
and it is two miles further than Ringsworth.' 

It turned out that the men had already come; for 
while she spoke two or three dozen heads broke the 
line of the slope, and a company of them at once 
descended from the bushes where they had been lying 
in wait. These carriers were men whom Lizzy and 
other proprietors regularly employed to bring the tubs 
from the boat to a hiding-place inland. They were 
all young fellows of Nether- Moynton, Chaldon, and 

257 » 



WESSEX TALES 

the neighbourhood, quiet and inoffensive persons, who 
simply engaged to carry the cargo for Lizzy and her 
<^' cousin Owlett, as they would have engaged in any 
other labour for which they were fairly well paid. 

At a word from her they closed in together. ' You 
had better take it now,' she said to them ; and handed 
to each a packet. It contained six shillings, their 
remuneration for the night's undertaking, which was 
paid beforehand without reference to success or failure; 
but, besides this, they had the privilege of selling as 
agents when the run was successfully made. As soon 
as it was done, she said to them, * The place is the old 
one near Lulstead Cove ; ' the men till that moment not 
having been told whither they were bound, for obvious 
reasons. ' Owlett will meet you there,' added Lizzy. 
* I shall follow behind, to see that we are not watched.' 

The carriers went on, and Stockdale and Mrs. New- 
berry followed at a distance of a stone's throw. * What 
do these men do by day ? ' he said. 

'Twelve or fourteen of them are labouring men. 
Some are brickmakers, some carpenters, some shoe- 
makers, some thatchers. They are all known to me very 
well. Nine of 'em are of your own congregation.' 

* I can't help that,' said Stockdale. 

'O, I know you can't. I only told you. The 
others are more church-inclined, because they supply 
the pa'son with all the spirits he requires, and they 
don't wish to show unfriendliness to a customer.' 

' How do you choose 'em ? ' said Stockdale. 

' We choose 'em for their closeness, and because they 
are strong and surefooted, and able to carry a heavy 
load a long way without being tired.' 

Stockdale sighed as she enumerated each particular, 
for it proved how far involved in the business a woman 
must be who was so well acquainted with its conditions 
and needs. And yet he felt more tenderly towards her 
at this moment than he had felt all the foregoing day. 

258 



«_- 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

Perhaps it was that her experienced manner and bold 
indifference stirred his admiration in spite of himself. 

* Take my arm, Lizzy,' he murmured. 

* I don't want it,' she said. * Besides, we may never 
be to each other again what we once have been.' 

* That depends upon you,' said he, and they went on 
again as before. 

The hired carriers paced along over Chaldon Down 
with as little hesitation as if it had been day, avoiding 
the cart-way, and leaving the village of East Chaldon 
on the left, so as to reach the crest of the hill at a 
lonely trackless place not far from the ancient earth- 
work called Round Pound. An hour's brisk walking 
brought them within sound of the sea, not many hundred 
yards from Lulstead Cove. Here they paused, and 
Lizzy and Stockdale came up with them, when they went 
on together to the verge of the cliff. One of the men 
now produced an iron bar, which he drove firmly into 
the soil a yard from the edge, and attached to it 
a rope that he had uncoiled from his body. They 
all began to descend, partly stepping, partly sliding 
down the incline, as the rope slipped through their 
hands. 

' You will not go to the bottom, Lizzy ? ' said Stock- 
dale anxiously. 

' No. I stay here to watch,' she said. * * Owlett is 
down there.* 

The men remained quite silent when they reached 
the shore; and the next thing audible to the two at 
the top was the dip of heavy oars, and the dashing of 
waves against a boat's bow. In a moment the keel 
gently touched the shingle, and Stockdale heard the 
footsteps of the thirty-six carriers running forwarda over 
the pebbles towards the point of landing. 

There was a sousing in the water as of a bmod of 
ducks plunging in, showing that the men had not been 
particular about keeping their legs, or even their waists, 

259 



WESSEX TALES 

dry from the brine : but it was impossible to see what 
they were doing, and in a few minutes the shingle was 
trampled again. The iron bar sustaining the rope, on 
which Stockdale's hand rested, began to swerve a little, 
and the carriers one by one appeared cHmbing up the 
sloping cliff, dripping audibly as they came, and sus- 
taining themselves by the guide-rope. Each man on 
reaching the top was seen to be carrying a pair of tubs, 
one on his back and one on his chest, the two being 
slung together by cords passing round the chine hoops, 
and resting on the carrier's shoulders. Some of the 
stronger men carried three by putting an extra one on 
the top behind, but the customary load was a pair, 
these being quite weighty enough to give their bearer 
the sensation of having chest and backbone in contact 
after a walk of four or five miles. 

' Where is Owlett ? ' said Lizzy to one of them. 

* He will not come up this way,' said the carrier. 
' He's to bide on shore till we be safe off.' Then, 
without waiting for the rest, the foremost men plunged 
across the down; and, when the last had ascended, 
Lizzy pulled up the rope, wound it round her arm, 
wriggled the bar from the sod, and turned to follow 
the carriers. 

'You are very anxious about Owlett's safety,' said 
the minister. 

' Was there ever such a man ! * said Lizzy. ' Why, 
isn't he my cousin ? * 

*Yes. Well, it is a bad night's work,' said Stock- 
dale heavily. 'But I'll carry the bar and rope for 
you.' 

'Thank God, the tubs have got so far all right,' 
said she. 

Stockdale shook his head, and, taking the bar, 
walked by her side towards the downs; and the moan 
of the sea was heard no more. 

*Is this what you meant the other day when you 

260 



J_- 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 



spoke of having business with Owlett ? ' the young man 
asked. 

* This is it,' she replied. ' I never see him on any 
other matter.' 

'A partnership of that kind with a young man is 
very odd.' 

' It was begun by my father and his, who were 
brother-laws.' 

Her companion could not blind himself to the fact 
that where tastes and pursuits were so akin as Lizzy's 
and Owlett's, and where risks were shared, as with 
them, in every undertaking, there would be a peculiar 
appropriateness in her answering Owlett's standing 
question on matrimony in the affirmative. This did 
not soothe Stockdale, its tendency being rather to 
stimulate in him an effort to make the pair as inappro- 
priate as possible, and win her away from this nocturnal 
crew to correctness of conduct and a minister's parlour 
in some far-removed inland county. 

They had been walking near enough to the file of 
carriers for Stockdale to perceive that, when they got 
into the road to the village, they split up into two 
companies of unequal size, each of which made off in 
a direction of its own. One company, the smaller of 
the two, went towards the church, and by the time that 
Lizzy and Stockdale reached their own house these 
men had scaled the churchyard wall, and were proceed- 
ing noiselessly over the grass within. 

* I see that Owlett has arranged for one batch to 
be put in the church again,' observed Lizzy. * Do you 
remember my taking you there the first night you 
came?' 

* Yes, of course,' said Stockdale. ' No wonder you 
had permission to broach the tubs — they were his, I 
suppose ? ' 

* No, they were not — they were mine ; I had per- 
mission from myself. The day after that they went 

361 



WESSEX TALES 

several miles inland in a waggon-load of manure, and 
sold very well.' 

At this moment the group of men who had made 
off to the left some time before began leaping one by 
one from the hedge opposite Lizzy's house, and the 
first man, who had no tubs upon his shoulders, came 
forward. 

' Mrs. Newberry, isn't it ? * he said hastily. 
! * Yes, Jim,' said she. * What's the matter ? ' 

'I find that we can't put any in Badger's Clump 
to-night, Lizzy,' said Owlett. 'The place is watched. 
We must sling the apple-tree in the orchet if there's 
time. We can't put any more under the church lumber 
than I have sent on there, and my mixen hev already 
more in en than is safe.* 

'Very well,' she said. 'Be quick about it — that's 
all. What can I do?' 

'Nothing at all, please. Ah, it is the minister! — 
you two that can't do anything had better get indoors 
and not be zeed.' 

While Owlett thus conversed, in a tone so full of 
contraband anxiety and so free from lover's jealousy, 
the men who followed him had been descending one 
by one from the hedge; and it unfortunately happened 
that when the hindmost took his leap, the cord slipped 
which sustained his tubs : the result was that both the 
kegs fell into the road, one of them being stove in by 
the blow. 

* 'Od drown it all ! ' said Owlett, rushing back. 

' It is worth a good deal, I suppose ? ' said Stock- 
dale. 

'O no — about two guineas and half to us now,' 
said Lizzy excitedly. ' It isn't that — it is the smell I 
It is so blazing strong before it has been lowered by 
water, that it smells dreadfully when spilt in the road 
like that 1 I do hope Latimer won't pass by till it is 
gone oS.* 

263 



i-^' 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

Owlett and one or two others picked up the burst 
tub and began to scrape and trample over the spot, 
to disperse the liquor as much as possible; and then 
they all entered the gate of Owlett's orchard, which 
adjoined Liz-y's garden on the right. Stockdale did 
not care to follow them, for several on recognizing hira 
had looked wonderingly at his presence, though they 
said nothing. Lizzy left his side and went to the 
bottom of the garden, looking over the hedge into the 
orchard, where the men could be dimly seen bustling 
about, and apparently hiding the tubs. All was done 
noiselessly, and without a light; and when it was over 
they dispersed in different directions, those who had 
taken their cargoes to the church having already gone 
off to their homes. 

Lizzy returned to the garden-gate, over which Stock- 
dale was still abstractedly leaning. * It is all finished : 
I am going indoors now,' she said gently. * I will leave 
the door ajar for you.' 

♦ O no — you needn't,' said Stockdale ; ' I am coming 
too.' 

But before either of them had moved, the faint clatter 
of horses' hoofs broke upon the ear, and it seemed to 
come from the point where the track across the down 
joined the hard road. 

' They are just too late ! ' cried Lizzy exultingly. 

♦ Who ? ' said Stockdale. 

'Latimer, the riding-officer, and some assistant of 
his. We had better go indoors.* 

They entered the house, and Lizzy bolted the door. 
• Please don't get a light, Mr. Stockdale,' she said. 

♦ Of course I will not,' said he. 

*I thought you might be on the side of the king,' 
said Lizzy, with faintest sarcasm. 

' I am,* said Stockdale. ' But, Liz/y Newberry, I 
love you, and you know it perfectly well ; and you 
ought to know, if you do not, what I iiave saficred 
s 263 



WESSEX TALES 

in my conscience on your account these last few 
days ! ' 

* I guess very well,' she said hurriedly. * Yet I don't 
see why. Ah, you are better than I ! ' 

The trotting of the horses seemed to have again died 
away, and the pair of listeners touched each other's 
fingers in the cold ' Good-night ' of those whom some- 
thing seriously divided. They were on the landing, but 
before they had taken three steps apart, the tramp of 
the horsemen suddenly revived, almost close to the 
house. Lizzy turned to the staircase window, opened 
the casement about an inch, and put her face close 
to the aperture. 'Yes, one of 'em is Latimer,' she 
whispered. ' He always rides a white horse. One 
would think it was the last colour for a man in that 
line.' 

Stockdale looked, and saw the white shape of the 
animal as it passed by ; but before the riders had gone 
another ten yards, Latimer reined in his horse, and said 
something to his companion which neither Stockdale 
nor Lizzy could hear. Its drift was, however, soon 
made evident, for the other man stopped also ; and 
sharply turning the horses' heads they cautiously re- 
traced their steps. When they were again opposite 
Mrs. Newberry's garden, Latimer dismounted, and the 
man on the dark horse did the same. 

Lizzy and Stockdale, intently listening and observing 
the proceedings, naturally put their heads as close as 
possible to the slit formed by the slightly opened case- 
ment ; and thus it occurred that at last their cheeks 
came positively into contact. They went on listening, 
as if they did not know of the singular incident which 
had happened to their faces, and the pressure of each 
to each rather increased than lessened with the lapse 
of time. 

They could hear the excisemen sniffing the air like 
hounds as they paced slowly along. "When they reached 

204 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

the spot, where the tub had burst, both stopped on the 
instant. 

' Ay, ay, 'tis quite strong here,' said the second 
officer. ' Shall we knock at the door ? ' 

•Well, no,' said Latimer. 'Maybe this is only a 
trick to put us off the scent. They wouldn't kick up 
this stink anywhere near their hiding-place. I have 
known such things before.' 

'Anyhow, the things, or some of 'em, must have 
been brought this way,' said the other. 

'Yes,' said Latimer musingly. ' Unless 'tis all done 
to tole us the wrong way. I have a mind that we go 
home for to-night without saying a word, and come the 
first thing in the morning with more hands. I know 
they have storages about here, but we can do nothing 
by this owl's light. We will look round the parish and 
see if everybody is in bed, John ; and if all is quiet, we 
will do as I say.' 

They went on, and the two inside the window could 
hear them passing leisurely through the whole village, 
the street of which curved round at the bottom and 
entered the turnpike road at another junction. This 
way the excisemen followed, and the amble of their 
horses died quite away. 

'What will you do?' said Stockdale, withdrawing 
from his position. 

She knew that he alluded to the coming search by 
the officers, to divert her attention from their own 
tender incident by the casement, which he wished to 
be passed over as a thing rather dreamt of than done. 
' O, nothing,' she replied, with as much coolness as 
she could command under her disappointment at his 
manner. ' We often have such storms as this. You 
would not be frightened if you knew what fools they 
are. Fancy riding o' horseback through the placer 
of course they will hear and see nobody while they 
make that noise; but they are always afraid to get oflf, 

265 



WESSEX TALES 



in case some of our fellows should burst out upon 'em, 
and tie them up to the gate-post, as they have done 
before now. Good-night, Mr. Stockdale.' 

She closed the window and went to her room, where 
a tear fell from her eyes ; and that not because of the 
alertness of the riding-officers. 



THE GREA T SEARCH A T 

NE THER-MO YNTON 

VI 

StOCKDALE was so excited by the events of the 
evening, and the dilemma that he was placed in between 
conscience and love, that he did not sleep, or even 
doze, but remained as broadly awake as at noonday. 
As soon as the grey light began to touch ever so faintly 
the v/hiter objects in his bedroom he arose, dressed 
himself, and went downstairs into the road. 

The village was already astir. Several of the 
carriers had heard the well-known tramp of Latimer's 
horse while they were undressing in the dark that 
night, and had already communicated with each other 
and Owlett on the subject. The only doubt seemed 
to be about the safety of those tubs which had been 
left under the church gallery-stairs, and after a short 
discussion at the corner of the mill, it was agreed 
that these should be removed before it got lighter, 
and hidden in the middle of a double hedge border- 
ing the adjoining field. However, before anything 
could be carried into effect, the footsteps of many men 
were heard coming down the lane from the highway. 

' Damn it, here they be,' said Owlett, who, having 
already drawn the hatch and started his mill for the 

267 



^ 



WESSEX TALES 

day, stood stolidly at the mill-door covered with flour, 
as if the interest of his whole soul was bound up in 
the shaking walls around him. 

The two or three with whom he had been talking 
dispersed to their usual work, and when the excise 
officers, and the formidable body of men they had 
hired, reached the village cross, between the mill and 
Mrs. Newberry's house, the village wore the natural 
aspect of a place beginning its morning labours. 

' Now,' said Latimer to his associates, who numbered 
thirteen men in all, * what I know is that the things are 
somewhere in this here place. We have got the day 
before us, and 'tis hard if we can't light upon 'em and 
get 'em to Budmouth Custom-house before night. First 
we will try the fuel-houses, and then we'll work our way 
into the chimmers, and then to the ricks and stables, 
and so creep round. You have nothing but your noses 
to guide ye, mind, so use 'em to-day if you never did in 
your lives before.* 

Then the search began. Owlett, during the early 
part, watched from his mill-window, Lizzy from the door 
of her house, with the greatest self-possession. A farmer 
down below, who also had a share in the run, rode about 
with one eye on his fields and the other on Latimer and 
his myrmidons, prepared to put them off the scent if 
he should be asked a question. Stockdale, who was no 
smuggler at all, felt more anxiety than the worst of them, 
and went about his studies with a heavy heart, coming 
frequently to the door to ask Lizzy some question or other 
on the consequences to her of the tubs being found. 

* The consequences,' she said quietly, ' are simply 
that I shall lose 'em. As I have none in the house or 
garden, they can't touch me personally,* 

* But you have some in the orchard ? * 

* Owlett rents that of me, and he lends it to others. 
So it will be hard to say who put any tubs there if they 
should be found.* 

«68 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

Tliere was never such a tremendous sniffing known 
as that which took place in Nether-Moynton parish and 
its vicinity this day. All was done methodically, and 
mostly on hands and knees. At different hours of the 
day they had different plans. From daybreak to break- 
fast-time the officers used their sense of smell in a direct 
and straightforward manner only, pausing nowhere but 
at such places as the tubs might be supposed to be 
secreted in at that very moment, pending their removal 
on the following night. Among the places tested and 
examined were : — 



Hollow trees 

Potato-graves 
Fuel-houses 
Bedrooms 
Apple-lofts 



Cupboards 

Clock-cases 

Chimney-flues 

Rainwater-butts 

Pigsties 



Culverts 
Hedgerows 
Faggot-ricks 
Haystacks 
Coppers and ovens. 



After breakfast they recommenced with renewed 
vigour, taking a new line; that is to say, directing 
their attention to clothes that might be supposed to 
have come in contact with the tubs in their removal 
from the shore, such garments being usually tainted 
with the spirit, owing to its oozing between the staves. 
They now sniffed at — 



Smock-frocks 

Old shirts and waistcoats 

Coats and hats 

Breeches and leggings 

"Women's shawls and gowns 



Smiths' and shoemakers' aprons 

Knee-naps and hedging-gloves 

Tarpaulins 

Market-cloaks 

Scarecrows 



And as soon as the mid-day meal was over, they pushed 
their search into places where the spirits might have been 
thrown away in alarm : — 



Horse-ponds 
Stable-drains 
Cinder -heaps 



Mixens 
Wet ditches 
Cesspools 

269 



Sinks in yards 
Road-scrapings, and 
Back-door gutters. 



WESSEX TALES 

But still these indefatigable excisemen discoveied 
nothing more than the original tell-tale smell in the 
road opposite Lizzy's house, which even yet had not 
passed off. 

• I'll tell ye what it is, men,' said Latimer, about 
three o'clock in the afternoon, ' we must begin over 
again. Find them tubs I will.' 

The men, who had been hired for the day, looked 
at their hands and knees, muddy with creeping on all 
fours so frequently, and rubbed their noses, as if they 
had almost had enough of it; for the quantity of bad 
air which had passed into each one's nostril had rendered 
it nearly as insensible as a flue. However, after a 
moment's hesitation, they prepared to start anew, except 
three, whose power of smell had quite succumbed under 
the excessive wear and tear of the day. 

By this time not a male villager was to be seen in 
the parish. Owlett was not at his mill, the farmers 
were not in their fields, the parson was not in his 
garden, the smith had left his forge, and the wheel- 
wright's shop was silent. 

' Where the divil are the folk gone ? ' said Latimer, 
waking up to the fact of their absence, and looking 
round. * I'll have 'em up for this ! Why don't they 
come and help us ? There's not a man about the place 
but the Methodist parson, and he's an old woman. I 
demand assistance in the king's name ! ' 

' We must find the jineral public afore we can demand 
that,' said his lieutenant. 

'Well, well, we shall do better without 'em,' said 
Latimer, who changed his moods at a moment's notice. 
* But there's great cause of suspicion in this silence and 
this keeping out of sight, and I'll bear it in mind. Now 
we will go across to Owlett's orchard, and see what 
we can find there.' 

Stockdale, who heard this discussion from the garden- 
gate, over which he had been leaning, was rather alarmed, 

270 



1_' 

THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

and thought it a mistake of the villagers to keep so 
completely out of the way. He himself, like the 
excisemen, had been wondering for the last half-hour 
what could have become of them. Some labourers 
were of necessity engaged in distant fields, but the 
master- workmen should have been at home; though 
one and all, after just showing themselves at their 
shops, had apparently gone off for the day. He went 
in to Lizzy, who sat at a back window sewing, and 
said, ' Lizzy, where are the men ? ' 

Lizzy laughed. ' Where they mostly are when 
they're run so hard as this.' She cast her eyes to 
heaven. ' Up there,' she said. 

Stockdale looked up. ' What — on the top of the 
church tower?' he asked, seeing the direction of her 
glance. 

' Yes.' 

' Well, I expect they will soon have to come down,* 
said he gravely. ' I have been listening to the officers, 
and they are going to search the orchard over again, 
and then every nook in the church.' 

Lizzy looked alarmed for the first time. * Will you 
go and tell our folk ? ' she said. ' They ought to be 
let know.' Seeing his conscience struggling within 
him like a boiling pot, she added, ' No, never mind, 
I'll go myself,' 

She went out, descended the garden, and climbed 
over the churchyard wall at the same time that the 
preventive-men were ascending the road to the orchard. 
Stockdale could do no less than follow her. By the 
time that she reached the tower entrance he was at 
her side, and they entered together. 

Nether- Moynton church- tower was, as in many 
villages, without a turret, and the only way to the top 
was by going up to the singers' gallery, and thence 
ascending by a ladder to a square trap-door in the floor 
of the bell-loft, above which a permanent ladder was 

271 



WESSEX TALES 

fixed, passing through the bells to a hole in the roof. 
When Lizzy and Stockdale reached the gallery and 
looked up, nothing but the trap-door and the five holes 
for the bell-ropes appeared. The ladder was gone. 

* There's no getting up,' said Stockdale. 

* O yes, there is,' said she. * There's an eye looking 
at us at this moment through a knot-hole in that trap- 
door.' 

And as she spoke the trap opened, arid the dark Hne 
of the ladder was seen descending against the white- 
washed wall. When it touched the bottom Lizzy dragged 
it to its place, and said, ' If you'll go up, I'll follow.' 

The young man ascended, and presently found him- 
self among consecrated bells for the first time in his life, 
nonconformity having been in the Stockdale blood for 
some generations. He eyed them uneasily, and looked 
round for Lizzy. Owlett stood here, holding the top 
of the ladder. 

' What, be you really one of us ? * said the miller. 

* It seems so,' said Stockdale sadly. 

' He's not,' said Lizzy, who overheard. ' He's neither 
for nor against us. He'll do us no harm.' 

She stepped up beside them, and then they went on 
to the next stage, which, when they had clambered over 
the dusty bell-carriages, was of easy ascent, leading 
towards the hole through which the pale sky appeared, 
and into the open air. Owlett remained behind for a 
moment, to pull up the lower ladder. 

' Keep down your heads,* said a voice, as soon as 
they set foot on the flat. 

Stockdale here beheld all the missing parishioners, 
lying on their stomachs on the tower roof, except a few 
who, elevated on their hands and knees, were peeping 
through the embrasures of the parapet. Stockdale did 
the same, and saw the village lying like a map below 
him, over which moved the figures of the excisemen, 
each foreshortened to a crablike object, the crown of 

272 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

his hat forming a circular disc in the centre of him. 
Some of the men had turned their heads when the 
young preacher's figure arose among them. 

' What, Mr. Stockdale ? ' said Matt Grey, in a tone 
of surprise. 

' Fd as lief that it hadn't been,' said Jim Clarke. 
' If the pa'son should see him a trespassing here in his 
tower, 'twould be none the better for we, seeing how 'a 
do hate chapel-members. He'd never buy a tub of us 
again, and he's as good a customer as we have got this 
side o' Warm'lL' 

' Where is the pa'son ? ' said Lizzy. 

' In his house, to be sure, that he mid see nothing 
of what's going on — where all good folks ought to be, 
and this young man likewise.' 

' Well, he has brought some news,' taid Lizzy. 
* They are going to search the orchet and church ; can 
we do anything if they should find ? * 

* Yes,' said her cousin Owlett. ' That's what we've 
been talking o', and we have settled our line. Well, be 
dazed ! ' 

The exclamation was caused by his perceiving that 
some of the searchers, having got into the orchard, and 
begun stooping and creeping hither and thither, were 
pausing in the middle, where a tree smaller than the 
rest was growing. They drew closer, and bent lower 
than ever upon the ground. 

' O, my tubs ! ' said Lizzy faintly, as she peered 
through the parapet at them. 

• They have got 'em, 'a b'lieve,' said Owlett. 

The interest in the movements of the officers was 
so keen that not a single eye was looking in any other 
direction ; but at that moment a shout from the church 
beneath them attracted the attention of the smugglers, 
as it did also of the party in the orchard, who sprang to 
their feet and went towards the churchyard wall At 
the same time those of the Government men who had 

273 • 



WESSEX TALES 

entered the church unperceived by the smugglers cried 
aloud, ' Here be some of 'em at last.' 

The smugglers remained in a blank silence, uncer- 
tain whether ' some of 'em ' meant tubs or men ; but 
again peeping cautiously over the edge of the tower 
they learnt that tubs were the things descried; and 
soon these fated articles were brought one by one into 
the middle of the churchyard from their hiding-place 
under the gallery-stairs. 

' They are going to put 'em on Hinton's vault till 
they find the rest ! ' said Lizzy hopelessly. The excise- 
men had, in fact, begun to pile up the tubs on a large 
stone slab which was fixed there; and when all were 
brought out from the tower, two or three of the men 
were left standing by them, the rest of the party again 
proceeding to the orchard. 

The interest of the smugglers in the next manoeuvres 
of their enemies became painfully intense. Only about 
thirty tubs had been secreted in the lumber of the tower, 
but seventy were hidden in the orchard, making up all 
that they had brought ashore as yet, the remainder of 
the cargo having been tied to a sinker and dropped 
overboard for another night's operations. The excise- 
men, having re-entered the orchard, acted as if they 
were positive that here lay hidden the rest of the tubs, 
which they were determined to find before nightfall. 
They spread themselves out round the field, and ad- 
vancing on all fours as before, went anew round every 
apple-tree in the enclosure. The young tree in the 
middle again led them to pause, and at length the whole 
company gathered there in a way which signified that 
a second chain of reasoning had led to the same results 
as the first. 

When they had examined the sod hereabouts for some 
minutes, one of the men rose, ran to a disused porch of 
the church where tools were kept, and returned with the 
sexton's pickaxe and shovel, with which they set to work. 

274 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

* Are they really buried there ? ' said the minister, for 
the grass was so green and uninjured that it was diffi- 
cult to believe it had been disturbed. The smugglers 
were too interested to reply, and presently they saw, to 
their chagrin, the officers stand several on each side of the 
tree; and, stooping and applying their hands to the 
soil, they bodily lifted the tree and the turf around it. 
The apple-tree now showed itself to be growing in a 
shallow box, with handles for lifting at each of the four 
sides. Under the site of the tree a square hole was 
revealed, and an exciseman went and looked down. 

* It is all up now,' said Owlett quietly. ' And now 
all of ye get down before they notice we are here ; and 
be ready for our next move. I had better bide here 
till dark, or they may take me on suspicion, as 'tis on 
my ground. I'll be with ye as soon as daylight begins 
to pink in.' 

* And I ? ' said Lizzy. 

* You please look to the linch-pins and screws ; then 
go indoors and know nothing at all. The chaps will 
do the rest.' 

The ladder was replaced, and all but Owlett de- 
scended, the men passing off one by one at the back of 
the church, and vanishing on their respective errands. 
Lizzy walked boldly along the street, followed closely 
by the minister. 

* You are going indoors, Mrs. Newberry ? ' he said. 
She knew from the words * Mrs. Newberry ' that 

the division between them had widened yet another 
degree. 

' I am not going home,' she said. ' I have a little 
thing to do before I go in. Martha Sarah will get 
your tea.' 

* O, I don't mean on that account,' said Stockdale. 
'What can you have to do further in this unhallowed 
affair ? ' 

' Only a little,' she said. 

275 



WESSEX TALES 

' What is that ? I'll go with you.' 

' No, I shall go by myself. Will you please go in- 
doors ? I shall be there in less than an hour.' 

* You are not going to run any danger, Lizzy ? ' said 
the young man, his tenderness reasserting itself. 

' None whatever — worth mentioning,' answered she, 
and went down towards the Cross. 

Stockdale entered the garden gate, and stood behind 
it looking on. The excisemen were still busy in the 
orchard, and at last he was tempted to enter, and watch 
their proceedings. When he came closer he found that 
the secret cellar, of whose existence he had been totally 
unaware, was formed by timbers placed across from 
side to side about a foot under the ground, and grassed 
over. 

The excisemen looked up at Stockdale's fair and 
downy countenance, and evidently thinking him above 
suspicion, went on with their work again. As soon as 
all the tubs were taken out, they began tearing up the 
turf, pulling out the timbers, and breaking in the sides, 
till the cellar was wholly dismantled and shapeless, the 
apple-tree lying with its roots high to the air. But the 
hole which had in its time held so much contraband 
merchandize was never completely filled up, either then 
or afterwards, a depression in the greensward marking 
the spot to this day. 



i^' 



THE WALK TO WARM' ELL CROSS 

AND AFTERWARDS 

VII 

As the goods had all to be carried to Budmouth that 
night, the excisemen's next object was to find horses 
and carts for the journey, and they went about the 
village for that purpose. Latimer strode hither and 
thitlier with a lump of chalk in his hand, marking 
broad-arrows so vigorously on every vehicle and set of 
harness that he came across, that it seemed as if he 
would chalk broad-arrows on the very hedges and roads. 
The owner of every conveyance so marked was bound 
to give it up for Government purposes. Stockdale, 
who had had enough of the scene, turned indoors 
thoughtful and depressed. Lizzy was already there, 
having come in at the back, though she had not yet 
taken off her bonnet. She looked tired, and her mood 
was not much brighter than his own. They had but 
little to say to each other; and the minister went away 
and attempted to read ; but at this he could not suc- 
ceed, and he shook the little bell for tea. 

Lizzy herself brought in the tray, the girl having 
run off into the village during the afternoon, too full 
of excitement at the proceedings to remember her 
state of life. However, almost before the sad lovers 

2;; 



WESSEX TALES 

had said anything to each other, Martha came in in a 
steaming state. 

' O, there's such a stoor, Mrs. Newberry and Mr. 
Stockdale ! The king's excisemen can't get the carts 
ready nohow at all ! They pulled Thomas Ballam's, 
and William Rogers's, and Stephen Sprake's carts into 
the road, and off came the wheels, and down fell the 
carts; and they found there was no linch-pins in the 
arms ; and then they tried Samuel Shane's waggon, 
and found that the screws were gone from he, and at 
last they looked at the dairyman's cart, and he's got 
none neither! They have gone now to the black- 
smith's to get some made, but he's nowhere to be 
found ! ' 

Stockdale looked at Lizzy, who blushed very slightly, 
and went out of the room, followed by Martha Sarah. 
But before they had got through the passage there 
was a rap at the front door, and Stockdale recognized 
Latimer's voice addressing Mrs. Newberry, who had 
turned back. 

* For God's sake, Mrs. Newberry, have you seen 
Hardman the blacksmith up this way? If we could 
get hold of him, we'd e'en a'most drag him by the hair 
of his head to his anvil, where he ought to be.' 

' He's an idle man, Mr Latimer,' said Lizzy archly. 
* What do you want him for ? ' 

' Why, there isn't a horse in the place that has got 
more than three shoes on, and some have only two. 
The waggon-wheels be without strakes, and there's no 
linch-pins to the carts. What with that, and the 
bother about every set of harness being out of order, 
we shan't be off before nightfall — upon my soul we 
shan't. *Tis a rough lot, Mrs. Newberry, that you've 
got about you here; but they'll play at this game 
once too often, mark my words they will ! There's 
not a man in the parish that don't deserve to be 
whipped.' 

278 



THE DISTRACTED- PREACHER 

It happened that Hardman was at that moment a 
little further up the lane, smoking his pipe behind a 
holly-bush. When Latimer had done speaking he went 
on in this direction, and Hardman, hearing the excise- 
man's steps, found curiosity too strong for prudence. 
He peeped out from the bush at the very moment that 
Latimer's glance was on it. There was nothing left for 
him to do but to come forward with unconcern. 

' I've been looking for you for the last hour ! * said 
Latimer with a glare in his eye. 

* Sorry to hear that,' said Hardman. ' I've been out 
for a stroll, to look for more hid tubs, to deliver 'em up 
to Gover'ment,' 

' O yes, Hardman, we know it,' said Latimer, with 
withering sarcasm. ' We know that you'll deliver 'em 
up to Gover'ment. We know that all the parish is 
helping us, and have been all day ! Now you please 
walk along with me down to your shop, and kindly let 
me hire ye in the king's name.' 

They went down the lane together; and presently 
there resounded from the smithy the ring of a hammer 
not very briskly swung. However, the carts and horses 
were got into some sort of travelling condition, but it 
was not until after the clock had struck six, when the 
muddy roads were glistening under the horizontal light 
of the fading day. The smuggled tubs were soon packed 
into the vehicles, and Latimer, with three of his assist- 
ants, drove slowly out of the village in the direction of 
the port of Budmouth, some considerable number of 
miles distant, the other excisemen being left to watch 
for the remainder of the cargo, which they knew to have 
been sunk somewhere between Ringsworth and Lulstead 
Cove, and to unearth Owlett, the only person clearly im- 
plicated by the discovery of the cave. 

Women and children stood at the doors as the carts, 
each chalked with the Government pitchfork, passed in 
the increasing twilight ; and as they stood they looked 

T 279 



WESSEX TALES 

at the confiscated property with a melancholy expression 
that told only too plainly the relation which they bore 
to the trade. 

'Well, Lizzy,' said Stockdale, when the crackle of 
the wheels had nearly died away. ' This is a fit finish 
to your adventure. I am truly thankful that you have 
got off without suspicion, and the loss only of the liquor. 
Will you sit down and let me talk to you ? ' 

* By and by,' she said. ' But I must go out now.* 
' Not to that horrid shore again ? ' he said blankly. 

* No, not there. I am only going to see the end of 
this day's business.' 

He did not answer to this, and she moved towards 
the door slowly, as if waiting for him to say something 
more. 

' You don't offer to come with me,' she added at last. 
' I suppose that's because you hate me after all this ? ' 

* Can you say it, Lizzy, when you know I only want 
to save you from such practices ? Come with you ! — 
of course I will, if it is only to take care of you. But 
why will you go out again ? ' 

' Because I cannot rest indoors. Something is hap- 
pening, and I must know what. Now, come ! ' And 
they went into the dusk together. 

When they reached the turnpike-road she turned to 
the right, and he soon perceived that they were follow- 
ing the direction of the excisemen and their load. He 
had given her his arm, and every now and then she 
suddenly pulled it back, to signify that he was to halt 
a moment and Usten. They had walked rather quickly 
along the first quarter of a mile, and on the second or 
third time of standing still she said, ' I hear them ahead 
— don't you ? ' 

'Yes,' he said; 'I hear the wheels. But what of 
that ? ' 

' I only want to know if they get clear away from 
the neighbourhood.' 

280 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

* Ah,' said he, a light breaking upon him. * Some- 
thing desperate is to be attempted ! — and now I re- 
member there was not a man about the village when 
we left.' 

' Hark ! ' she murmured. The noise of the cart- 
wheels had stopped, and given place to another sort ol 
sound. 

"Tis a scuffle!' said Stockdale. 'There'll be 
murder ! Lizzy, let go my arm ; I am going on. On 
my conscience, I must not stay here and do nothing ! ' 

'There'll be no murder, and not even a broken 
head,' she said. ' Our men are thirty to four of them : 
no harm will be done at all.' 

'Then there is an attack!' exclaimed Stockdale; 
•and you knew it was to be. Why should you side 
with men who break the laws like this ? ' 

' Why should you side with men who take from 
country traders what they have honestly bought wi' 
their own money in France ? ' said she firmly. 

' They are not honestly bought,' said he. 

* They are,' she contradicted. ' I and Owlett and 
the others paid thirty shillings for every one of the 
tubs before they were put on board at Cherbourg, and 
if a king who is nothing to us sends his people to 
steal our property, we have a right to steal it back 
again.' 

Stockdale did not stop to argue the matter, but 
went quickly in the direction of the noise, Lizzy keep- 
ing at his side. ' Don't you interfere, will you, dear 
Richard?' she said anxiously, as they drew near. 
' Don't let us go any closer : 'tis at Warm'ell Cross 
where they are seizing 'em. You can do no good, and 
you may meet with a hard blow ! ' 

'Let us see first what is going on,' he said. But 
before they had got much further the noise of the cart- 
wheels began again ; and Stockdale soon found that 
they were coming towards him. In another minute 

281 



WESSEX TALES 

the three carts came up, and Stockdale and Lizzy stood 
in the ditch to let them pass. 

Instead of being conducted by four men, as had 
happened when they went out of the village, the horses 
and carts were now accompanied by a body of from 
twenty to thirty, all of whom, as Stockdale perceived 
to his astonishment, had blackened faces. Among them 
walked six or eight huge female figures, whom, from 
their wide strides, Stockdale guessed to be men in 
disguise. As soon as the party discerned Lizzy and 
her companion four or five fell back, and when the 
carts had passed, came close to the pair. 

•There is no walking up this way for the present,' 
said one of the gaunt women^ who wore curls a foot 
long, dangling down the sides of her face, in the 
fashion of the time. Stockdale recognized this lady's 
voice as Owlett's. 

'Why not?' said Stockdale. 'This is the public 
highway.' 

' Now look here, youngster,' said Owlett. ' O, 'tis 
the Methodist parson ! — what, and Mrs. Newberry ! 
Well, you'd better not go up that way, Lizzy. They've 
all run off, and folks have got their own again.' 

The miller then hastened on and joined his com- 
rades. Stockdale and Lizzy also turned back. ' I 
wish all this hadn't been forced upon us,' she said 
regretfully. ' But if those excisemen had got off with 
the tubs, half the people in the parish would have been 
in want for the next month or two.* 

Stockdale was not paying much attention to her 
words, and he said, ' I don't think I can go back like 
this. Those four poor excisemen may be murdered 
for all I know.' 

' Murdered ! ' said Lizzy impatiently. • We don't do 
murder here.' 

'Well, I shall go as far as Warm'ell Cross to see,' 
said Stockdale decisively ; and, without wishing her safe 

282 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

home or anything else, the minister turned back, I,izzy 
stood looking at him till his form was absorbed in the 
shades ; and then, with sadness, she went in the direction 
of Nether-Moynton. 

The road was lonely, and after nightfall at this 
time of the year there was often not a passer for hours. 
Stockdale pursued his way without hearing a sound 
beyond that of his own footsteps; and in due time 
he passed beneath the trees of the plantation which 
surrounded the Warm'ell Cross-road. Before he had 
reached the point of intersection he heard voices from 
the thicket. 

' Hoi-hoi-hoi ! Help, help ! ' 

The voices were not at all feeble or despairing, but 
they were unmistakably anxious. Stockdale had no 
weapon, and before plunging into the pitchy darkness 
of the plantation he pulled a stake from the hedge, to 
use in case of need. When he got among the trees 
he shouted — ' What's the matter — where are you ? ' 

' Here,' answered the voices ; and, pushing through 
the brambles in that direction, he came near the objects 
of his search. 

' Why don't you come forward ? ' said Stockdale. 

« We be tied to the trees ! ' 

* Who are you ? ' 

'Poor Will Latimer the exciseman!' said one 
plaintively. 'Just come and cut these cords, there's 
a good man. We were afraid nobody would pass by 
to-night.' 

Stockdale soon loosened them, upon which they 
stretched their limbs and stood at their ease. 

' The rascals ! ' said Latimer, getting now into a rage, 
though he had seemed quite meek when Stockdale first 
came up. • 'Tis the same set of fellows. I know they 
were Moynton chaps to a man.' 

' But we can't swear to 'em,' said another. ' Not one 
of 'em spoke.* 

283 



V^^SSEX TALES 

• A\Tiat are you going to do ? ' said Stockdale. 

' I'd fain go back to Moynton, and have at 'era 
again ! ' said Latimer. 

' So would we ! ' said his comrades. 

' Fight till we die ! ' said Latimer. 

' We will, we will ! * said his men. 

'But,' said Latimer, more frigidly, as they came out 
of the plantation, ' we don't knoiv that these chaps with 
black faces were Moynton men ? And proof is a hard 
thing.' 

' So it is,* said the rest. 

'And therefore we won't do nothing at all,' said 
Latimer, with complete dispassionateness. ' For my 
part, I'd sooner be them than we. The ditches of my 
arms are burning like fire from the cords those two 
strapping women tied round 'em. My opinion is, now 
I have had time to think o't, that you may serve your 
Gover'ment at too high a price. For these two nights 
and days I have not had an hour's rest; and, please 
God, here's for home-along.' 

The otlier officers agreed heartily to this course ; and, 
thanking Stockdale for his timely assistance, they parted 
from him at the Cross, taking themselves the western 
road, and Stockdale going back to Nether-Moynton. 

During that walk the minister was lost in reverie 
of the most painful kind. As soon as he got into the 
house, and before entering his own rooms, he advanced 
to the door of the little back parlour in which Lizzy 
usually sat with her mother. He found her there alone. 
Stockdale went forward, and, like a man in a dream, 
looked down upon the table that stood between him 
and the young woman, who had her bonnet and cloak 
still on. As he did not speak, she looked up from her 
chair at him, with misgiving in her eye. 

' Where are they gone ? ' he then said Hstlessly. 

'Who? — I don't know. I have seen nothing of 
them since. I came straight in here.' 

284 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

' If your men can manage to get off with those tubs, 
it will be a great profit to you, I suppose ? ' 

' A share will be mine, a share my cousin Owlett's, 
a share to each of the two farmers, and a share divided 
amongst the men who helped us.' 

' And you still think,' he went on slowly, ' that you 
will not give this business up ? ' 

I.izzy rose, and put her hand upon his shoulder. 
'Don't ask that,' she whispered. 'You don't know 
what you are asking. I must tell you, though I meant 
not to do it. WTiat I make by that trade is all I have 
to keep my mother and myself with.' 

He was astonished. 'I did not dream of such a 
thing,' he said. ' I would rather have swept the streets, 
had I been you. What is money compared with a clear 
conscience ? ' 

'My conscience is clear. I know my mother, but 
the king I have never seen. His dues are nothing to 
me. But it is a great deal to me that my mother and 
I should live.' 

* Marry me, and promise to give it up. I will keep 
your mother.' 

• It is good of you,' she said, trembling a little. 
'Let me think of it by myself. I would rather not 
answer now.' 

She reserved her answer till the next day, and came 
into his room with a solemn face. ' I cannot do what 
you wished ! ' she said passionately. ' It is too much 
to ask. My whole Hfe ha' been passed in this way.' 
Her words and manner showed that before entering 
she had been struggling \nth herself in private, and that 
the contention had been strong. 

Stockdale turned pale, but he spoke quietly. ' Then, 
Lizzy, we must part. I cannot go against my principles 
in this matter, and I cannot make my profession a 
mockery. You know how I love you, and what I 
would do for you ; but this one thing I cannot do.* 

285 



WESSEX TALES 

•But why should you belong to that profession?' 
she burst out. ' I have got this large house ; why can't 
you marry me, and live here with us, and not be a 
Methodist preacher any more ? I assure you, Richard, 
it is no harm, and I wish you could only see it as I do ! 
We only carry it on in winter : in summer it is never 
done at all. It stirs up one's dull life at this time o' 
the year, and gives excitement, which I have got so 
used to now that I should hardly know how to do 
'ithout it. At nights, when the wind blows, instead of 
being dull and stupid, and not noticing whether it do 
blow or not, your mind is afield, even if you are not 
afield yourself; and you are wondering how the chaps 
are getting on ; and you walk up and down the room, 
and look out o' window, and then you go out yourself, 
and know your way about as well by night as by day, 
and have hairbreadth escapes from old Latimer and his 
fellows, who are too stupid ever to really frighten us, 
and only make us a bit nimble.' 

' He frightened you a little last night, anyhow : and 
I would advise you to drop it before it is worse.' 

She shook her head. ' No, I must go on as I have 
begun. I was born to it. It is in my blood, and I 
can't be cured. O, Richard, you cannot think what 
a hard thing you have asked, and how sharp you try 
me when you put me between this and my love for 'ee ! ' 

Stockdale was leaning with his elbow on the mantel- 
piece, his hands over his eyes. *We ought never to 
have met, Lizzy,' he said. * It was an ill day for us ! 
I little thought there was anything so hopeless and 
impossible in our engagement as this. Well, it is too 
late now to regret consequences in this way. I have 
had the happiness of seeing you and knomng you 
at least.' 

* You dissent from Church, and I dissent from 
State,' she said. 'And I don't see why we are not 
well matched.' 

286 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

He smiled sadly, while Lizzy remained looking down, 
her eyes beginning to overflow. 

That was an unhappy evening for both of them, and 
the days that followed were unhappy days. Both she 
and he went mechanically about their employments, and 
his depression was marked in the village by more than 
one of his denomination with whom he came in contact. 
But Lizzy, who passed her days indoors, was unsuspected 
of being the cause : for it was generally understood that 
a quiet engagement to marry existed between her and 
her cousin Owlett, and had existed for some time. 

Thus uncertainly the week passed on ; till one morn- 
ing Stockdale said to her : ' I have had a letter, Lizzy. 
I must call you that till I am gone.* 

* Gone ? ' said she blankly. 

* Yes,' he said. ' I am going from this place. I 
felt it would be better for us both that I should not 
stay after what has happened. In fact, I couldn't stay 
here, and look on you from day to day, without be- 
coming weak and faltering in my course. I have just 
heard of an arrangement by which the other minister 
can arrive here in about a week ; and let me go else- 
where.' 

That he had all this time continued so firmly fixed 
in his resolution came upon her as a grievous surprise. 
* You never loved me ! ' she said bitterly. 

* I might say the same,' he returned ; * but I will 
not. Grant me one favour. Come and hear my last 
sermon on the day before I go.' 

Lizzy, who was a church-goer on Sunday mornings, 
frequently attended Stockdale's chapel in the evening 
with the rest of the double-minded ; and she promised. 

It became known that Stockdale was going to leave, 
and a good many people outside his own sect were sorry 
to liesir it. The intervening days flew rapidly away, 
and on the evening of the Sunday which preceded the 
morning of his departure Lizzy sat in the chapel to hear 

287 



WESSEX TALES 

him for the last time. The little building was full to 
overflowing, and he took up the subject which all had 
expected, that of the contraband trade so extensively 
practised among them. His hearers, in laying his 
words to their own hearts, did not perceive that they 
were most particularly directed against Lizzy, till the 
sermon waxed warm, and Stockdale nearly broke down 
with emotion. In truth his own earnestness, and her 
sad eyes looking up at him, were too much for the 
young man's equanimity. He hardly knew how he 
ended. He saw Lizzy, as through a mist, turn and go 
away with the rest of the congregation; and shortly 
afterwards followed her home. 

She invited him to supper, and they sat down alone, 
her mother having, as was usual with her on Sunday 
nights, gone to bed early. 

* We will part friends, won't we ? ' said Lizzy, with 
forced gaiety, and never alluding to the sermon : a 
reticence which rather disappointed him. 

' We will,' he said, with a forced smile on his part ; 
and they sat down. 

It was the first meal that they had ever shared 
together in their lives, and probably the last that they 
would so share. When it was over, and the indifferent 
conversation could no longer be continued, he arose 
and took her hand. 'Lizzy,* he said, 'do you say we 
must part — do you ? ' 

' You do,' she said solemnly. ' I can say no 
more.' 

'Nor I,' said he. 'If that is your answer, good- 
bye!' 

Stockdale bent over her and kissed her, and she 
involuntarily returned his kiss. ' I shall go early,' he 
said hurriedly. ' I shall not see you again.' 

And he did leave early. He fancied, when stepping 
forth into the grey morning light, to mount the van 
which was to carry him away, that he saw a face between 

288 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

the parted curtains of Lizzy's window, but the light was 
faint, and the panes glistened with wet; so he coald 
not be sure. Stockdale mounted the vehicle, and was 
gone; and on the following Sunday the new minister 
preached in the chapel of the Moynton Wesleyans. 

One day, two years after the parting, Stockdale, now 
settled in a midland town, came into Nether-Moynton 
by carrier in the original way. Jogging along in the 
van that afternoon he had put questions to the driver, 
and the answers that he received interested the minister 
deeply. The result of them was that he went without 
the least hesitation to the door of his former lodging. 
It was about six o'clock in the evening, and the same 
time of year as when he had left ; now, too, the ground 
was damp and glistening, the west was bright, and 
Lizzy's snowdrops were raising their heads in the border 
under the wall. 

Lizzy must have caught sight of him from the window, 
for by the time that he reached the door she was there 
holding it open : and then, as if she had not sufficiently 
considered her act of coming out, she drew herself back, 
saying with some constraint, ' Mr. Stockdale ! ' 

' You knew it was,' said Stockdale, taking her hand. 
* I wrote to say I should call.' 

' Yes, but you did not say when,' she answered. 

' I did not. I was not quite sure when my business 
would lead me to these parts.' 

'You only came because business brought you 
near ? ' 

* Well, that is the fact ; but I have often thought I 
should like to come on purpose to see you. . . . But 
what's all this that has happened ? I told you how it 
would be, Lizzy, and you would not listen to me.' 

' I would not,' she said sadly. * But I had been 
brought up to that life; and it was second nature to 
me. However, it is all over now. The officers have 

289 X 



WESSEX TALES 

blood-money for taking a man dead or alive, and the 
trade is going to nothing. We were hunted down like 
rats.' 

' Owlett is quite gone, I hear.* 

'Yes. He is in America. We had a dreadful 
struggle that last time, when they tried to take him. 
It is a perfect miracle that he lived through it; and it 
is a wonder that I was not killed. I was shot in the 
hand. It was not by aim ; the shot- was really meant 
for my cousin ; but I was behind, looking on as usual, 
and the bullet came to me. It bled terribly, but I got 
home without fainting ; and it healed after a time. You 
know how he suffered ? ' 

*No,' said Stockdale. *I only heard that he just 
escaped with his life.' 

' He was shot in the back ; but a rib turned the 
ball. He was badly hurt. We would not let him be 
took. The men carried him all night across the meads 
to Kingsbere, and hid him in a barn, dressing his wound 
as well as they could, till he was so far recovered as to 
be able to get about. He had gied up his mill for some 
time ; and at last he got to Bristol, and took a passage 
to America, and he's settled in Wisconsin.' 

* What do you think of smuggling now ? ' said the 
minister gravely. 

' I own that we were wrong,' said she. ' But I 
have suffered for it. I am very poor now, and my 
mother has been dead these twelve months. . . . But 
won't you come in, Mr. Stockdale ? ' 

Stockdale went in; and it is to be supposed that 
they came to an understanding ; for a fortnight later 
there was a sale of Lizzy's furniture, and after that a 
wedding at a chapel in a neighbouring town. 

He took her away from her old haunts to the home 
that he had made for himself in his native county, 
where she studied her duties as a minister's wife with 
praiseworthy assiduity. It is said that in after years she 

290 



Jw- 



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER 

wrote an excellent tract called Render unto Ccesar; or, 
The Repentant Villagers, in which her own experience 
was anonymously used as the introductory story. 
Stockdale got it printed, after making some corrections, 
and putting in a few powerful sentences of his own ; and 
many hundreds of copies were distributed by the couple 
in the course of their married life. 

April i87> 



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